About Me

Tollesbury, Essex, United Kingdom
I was born in the Summer of 1969 in Dagenham, just on the border of East London. School was largely unproductive but enjoyable, setting me up for something of a wayward but interesting life! On leaving school I had various jobs including putting up stalls at Romford Market, working in a record shop, putting up ceilings, gardening and road sweeping. After resigning from an insurance company to play in a band, I found myself unemployed for two years. Then finally I got back on my feet and I've been a psychiatric nurse since 1997. I wrote A Cleansing of Souls when I was 22 years old and followed it up with Tollesbury Time Forever almost twenty years later. I started writing The Bird That Nobody Sees in September 2011 and it was released in July 2012. In terms of writing, my heroes are Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I would also include Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as literary influences. So that's me I guess - scruffy, happy and in love with literary fiction, music and life...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Review of Ask The Dust by John Fante

One morning, a couple of weeks ago, a slim package from Amazon dropped through my door. I was just recovering from my knee operation and thus struggled to bend down to pick it up. Having done so I slid it onto the kitchen worktop assuming it was something else my wife had ordered. It was only when she came in from work that I was told it was actually for me. But I hadn't ordered anything. I opened it anyway and there was Ask The Dust by John Fante. I hadn't heard of either him or his book. Perplexed, I read the back of it and saw there was a Foreward by Charles Bukowski - one of my favourite authors. Curiouser and curiouser! The mystery was solved when I noticed a small typed note in amongst the packaging:

"Get well cards are for girls. Thought you might like this. I love it. Dave"

Now that's a great mate for you!

Ask The Dust was first published in 1939 when the author was thirty years old. It tells of struggling writer, Arturo Bandini (Fante's alter-ego much in the same way as Ray Smith is in The Dharma Bums for Jack Kerouac), who has moved to Los Angeles to make a go of his writing career. It is a first-person narrative story whose style is very similar to that of Bukowski who once declared: Fanti is my god! In fact Arturo Bandini and Henri Chinowski (Bukowski's alter ego) could be at the very least brothers, if not twins. It also stands comparison to Kerouac's Tristessa in terms of the main character's fascination with a woman with whom he believes he is in love; yet it is what she represents that truly holds the fascination.

Arturo Bandini is in his early twenties when the book begins and we are guided through various events, none of which are particularly dramatic, through his eyes. It is fair to say that at no time does he come off with any real credit. He is pompous, selfish, downright unpleasant at times, a bully and a liar. And the store that he holds in his (at the start of the novel) only published short story - The Little Dog Laughed - would make every fledgeling author squirm! I know I did! I believe that every independant author just trying to make their way, like me, would get a lot from Ask The Dust. Arturo has an unstinting belief in his talent and on one level you have to admire him for it. Times are very hard, living off free oranges and stolen milk and yet he still believes that one day he will make it as an author. He idolises his agent as being the one man who has spotted his genius and pours scorn on all those that don't recognise it. The only person ever to have told him they had read his short story is a fourteen year old girl whom he implores to read it aloud to him whilst he lays on his bed. He then claims to be closer to her age than he looks before she is whisked away by her mother.

So on one level this is the story of a struggling writer - his loves, ambition, confusion and daily worries. On another it is wonderful social commentary about how Los Angeles has sucked the life out of all those who live within its environs.

Ask The Dust is achingly funny at times but in a really poignant way. The final scene is wonderful and the whole book, from the manner in which it came into my hands, to the delightful prose, I found to be an absolute delight. As someone who recognises many of the traits inherent in Arturo Bandini I feel both sustained in my belief that I will one day make writing my full-time profession and relieved that were it not for people like my mate Dave the chances of  my appropriating the more unedifying elements of Bandini's character are thankfully remote though only ever just below the surface.


Nikki-ann said...

A great review. Don't you just love surprise gifts like that?! :) I hope the knee is doing well.

Stu Ayris said...

Thank you Nikki-ann! Yes - a wonderful thing unexpectedly getting a great book through the post! My knee is a little better now thank you!