Review: Ask The Dust

Ask the Dust comes recommended by a couple LA history and policy nerds as an interesting novel written and set in the 1930’s in LA. Bukowski cites the author, John Fante, in general and Ask The Dust in particular as influencing him. My copy included an enthusiastic introduction from Bukowski. Those seemed like good endorsements to follow.

I have not read much Bukowski, but from what I have seen – and his introduction – I see what attracted him to Dust. Fante simultaneously views LA from the street level and writes at a symbolic level. He creates just enough of his characters to make them sympathetic and engaging at the same time they evoke universal motivations and emotions. A critic I enjoy once characterized a work as having Grand Emotion and petty scale. He could have easily been describing Ask The Dust.

Though I characterized his themes as universal above, Fante’s universe here is Southern California. His protagonists have all arrived in SoCal to flee the strictures of the more settled parts of America while starving for the acclaim of those who stayed for their creative work. They came to create art not industrial parts and came here for a tabula rasa. Today those themes border on shopworn, but Fante is one of the first and still best to dig into them.

In addition, he powerfully ties his themes to the LA particulars. While some of the landmarks and institutions have been swallowed by the city’s own hunger for novelty, they resonate at a sub-bass level. And many of the icons are still visible.

It definitely needed some time to grow on me and let me chew it up, but overall I came away richer,


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