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Old 07-28-2011, 10:02 AM   #20
beppe
Grand Sorcerer
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I would like to nominate Ask the Dusk (1939) by John Fante.
It can be obtained for as low as $4.99. This is the Inkmesh link
This is the article on the book by the Guardian (2009)
Spoiler:

How Ask the Dust nearly missed greatness

Rob Woodard
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 January 2009 08.00 GMT
Article history

John Fante
Almost forgotten ... John Fante

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Ask the Dust, by John Fante. Today it's widely regarded as a classic of American literature; many have declared it the finest novel ever to emerge from Los Angeles. In addition to critical praise, the book has also found popular success, appearing on bestseller lists in both the US and Europe. In 2006 it was even made into a Hollywood film, starring Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell. But Fante's masterpiece has not always enjoyed such prominence. In fact, its journey to its current status has been long and highly unusual.

The novel tells the story of Arturo Bandini, a young Italian-American from Boulder, Colorado who moves to LA to try and make it as a writer. Penniless but hopeful, Bandini soon finds himself locked in an intense battle with his insanely demanding muse as well as the City of Angels itself, which he sees as a maddening mix of smug wealth and heartbreaking poverty. Mirroring these themes and driving much of the novel's action is Bandini's wildly destructive relationship with Camilla Lopez, an unstable young Mexican waitress, whose beauty represents much of what Arturo craves, but whose ethnicity (in the context of 1930s America) forces him to confront his own ancestry and the pain that drives so much of his life.

At the time of Ask the Dust's release in 1939, Fante appeared to be a writer on the rise. His first novel, Wait Until Spring, was well received; his short stories were appearing in prominent publications such as the American Mercury, and he had a long-distance mentor in HL Mencken, at that time one of America's most influential men of letters. With all these things going for him, Fante was poised to take his place alongside Steinbeck as one of the era's most important Californian writers when his incendiary sophomore novel hit the stands. However, Ask the Dust received mixed reviews, sold very poorly, and quickly fell out of print. And that's how things stayed for the next four decades.

This failure drove Fante into a chequered career as a Hollywood screenwriter, and largely spelled the end of his career as a novelist. By the late 1970s, when Fante was nearing the end of life, he had been almost completely forgotten by the general public and most of the literary establishment as well. However, he had his admirers - and so did Ask the Dust. While writing the screenplay for Chinatown in the early 1970s, Robert Towne (who later directed and wrote the film of Ask the Dust) turned to Fante's by then very obscure novel in search of a template for authentic 1930s-era dialogue. By the late 1970s LA poet-playwright-journalist Ben Pleasants had begun a series of interviews with a declining Fante and published an important overview of his life and work in the LA Times Book Review in 1979. However, it was Pleasants's friend, the now famous poet and novelist Charles Bukowski, who played the most important role in bringing Fante and his great novel back into public view.

As a struggling young writer haunting the streets of Los Angeles, al la Arturo Bandini, Bukowski had stumbled upon a copy of Ask the Dust in the public library. Fante immediately became a huge influence on the younger man's writing, to the point where Bukowski would later declare that "Fante was my god." Much later Bukowski introduced Ask the Dust to his publisher, John Martin. Martin recognised the novel as a classic and Fante as a major writer, and soon republished it from his Black Sparrow Press where, over the next three-plus decades it would slowly gather a large, adoring audience, while reaping seemingly endless critical praise.

Several years ago, Martin sold Black Sparrow Press. At this point Ask the Dust (along with most of Fante's oeuvre, which Black Sparrow also now published) found its way to Echo Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, where it has garnered an even larger audience. It's amazing to think, though, that if a young Charles Bukowski had missed Ask the Dust during his time in the LA library, the book's later success might never have come about: it likely would have stayed out of print and Fante would probably be remembered, if he was remembered at all, as another burned-out old screenwriter and failed novelist. Instead, he's seen today as a powerful pre-Beat writer who wrote one of the most influential and important novels of the last, well, 70 years.
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