For years they waited, as treasures buried in some kind of galleon at the bottom of the sea await, the 17 stories —and the exciting prologue to a novel of their own, the love letter to what has been created as if what has been created could to read it one day—from this withering (and unexpected) unpublished anthology by John Fante, the creator of the great Arturo Bandini, the most smugly charming writer in History, with capital letters. They waited in a galleon that looked like a tall clerical-size black metal filing cabinet with deep drawers, which, no, was not buried at the bottom of the sea, but in a dimly lit room in the Malibu house where the author spent his last years. and where, in 1994, the year of his discovery, his wife, Joyce, still lived.
Stephen Cooper, his biographer, found them. It was Joyce herself who gave her access to the filing cabinet when she felt that she could do a good job with what she found there. They had been chatting for some time about what her life had been like with John when it happened. There were, in them, envelopes, letters, folders, notebooks and bundles of pages written by hand and typed. Photographs, movie studio contracts, canceled checks, old copies of The American Mercuryeven, Cooper says, “a sealed envelope labeled John Fante hair”. And although it was said that the author of ask the dust I didn’t save anything, I did. There were also early stories in those filing cabinets, some written when he hadn’t even left his parents’ house.
To understand the importance of the find, and the enormous value of each one of those texts, so vibrant and scandalously fantians that must already be among the best of his production —without a doubt, the anthology surpasses the pair previously published, and it does so because each story contains the essence of the spirit of John Fante’s literature, so condensed that it seems a miracle—, you must travel to the past and reconstruct the figure of the writer, the son of the mythical and excessive Nicola Fante, the mason who inevitably and fatally destroyed everything he touched. He was born in 1909, and was always a macaroni, like his alter ego, Arturo Bandini, the writer happily and furiously doomed to failure. That’s what Bandini calls himself, Nick’s son, condemned never to be taken seriously.
Good friends with William Saroyan—whose successes he saw as an unattainable feat—Fante describes himself in his writing from the beginning—his multiple ridiculous jobs, his obsession with HL Mencken, his definitely clumsy attempts to fit into some sort of world—, and also, elevates the figure of his father, and attacks, from an always tenderly absurd satire, against the family, his Italian family, in a North America with as many countries as, yes, families from anywhere. If his talent went unnoticed, it was because of his misfortune: ask the dusthis great novel, arrived early, in 1939, but he had no promotion, because the publishing house spent all the money on the lawsuit he received for having published the Mein Kampfof Hitler.
The cinema soon tempted him, and the money he made in the studios kept him away from the novel, and the story, his true vocation. His son, Dan Fante, explained that he admired Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian Nobel laureate, so much that he used to rehearse his signature on the copies in his library, over and over again. Hence, the title of this anthology is very exciting for those who admired him: Hunger is the title of the Hamsun classic that Fante honors and modernizes —there are deliciously traced scenes, and sublimated, americanized– in ask the dust. Fante was rescued by Charles Bukowski in 1980, three years before his death —diabetes was literally tearing him to pieces—, whose fame was made visible by the fact that his teacher, that writer who had been Prayednever had.
Fante has begun to be considered a kind of forerunner of the Beat Generation, but he was much more than that, he revitalized with a powerfully electric humor, daringly absurd, the narrative of the Great Depression’s doom, promoting the figure of the loser to brand new , invincible, charmingly cursed anti-hero, an anti-hero forever out of place, doomed to create his own indestructible myth. Something that the 17 stories in this anthology give a good account of, capable, like few others, of going for the jugular —the almost adolescent ‘I laugh at Dibber Lannon’, or the helplessly brilliant ‘Put it on the bill’—, or almost photographing, painting, with an always vitalistic hyperrealism —the same ‘Hunger’— the kind of daily historical moment of those that History does not count on.
With the ferocity of one who hopes that nothing will ever end, the brute, immature and visceral, the impulsive father who always knew himself to be on the margins and at the center of the family is portrayed
Although if anything these stories bring back – which are sometimes chapters of future novels about Filipino immigrants that he never wrote, and even early versions of chapters of novels that he did write, such as Los Angeles Road: everything is detailed at the end, in an edition that almost allows one to peek into the drawers of that file cabinet—it is, on the one hand, Arturo Bandini—his spirit is resurrected here and there, in ‘I am a truthful writer’, in ‘The day the rain washed me off’, practically everywhere—and on the other, Nicola Fante, John’s true hero. With the ferocity of one who hopes that nothing will ever end, the brute, immature and visceral, the impulsive father who always knew himself to be on the margins and at the center of the family is portrayed.
Thus, they are stories like tiny novels that they reproduce, in miniatures that function as expandable models —as they expand in the brotherhood of the grapein a lousy year— what was to come. ‘The sins of the mother’, with that mother as the helm and the only contact with reality and that father to whom everything escapes, is perhaps the best example of the way in which a universe of a writer who never made another can be contained something to love, without taking it seriously, but taking it very seriously for that, where it came from, what it had been, what it was going to continue to be, knowing that it was something unique and deserved to have a place in the world.
Author: John Fante.
Translation: Antonio-Prometeo Moya.
Editorial: Anagram, 2022.
Format: softcover (288 pages. 19.90 euros) and e book (11.90 euros).
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