Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

John Fante (Stephen Cooper, Editor): The John Fante Reader

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Most novelists rework their personal experiences into fiction to some extent, but John Fante was fairly obvious about it. In four books dedicated to the adventures of a character he named "Arturo Bandini," Fante related the events of his own life: A son of Italian immigrants, Fante was raised in Colorado, then moved to Los Angeles in his early 20s to become a writer. But his own moral weakness sidetracked him, leading him into an extended stint as a Hollywood screenwriter. Before and after his foray into show business—which lasted from the '40s to the '70s—Fante worked himself and his world into pungent, seriocomic novels that were widely admired for their leanness and expressionism. For The John Fante Reader, Fante biographer Stephen Cooper has excerpted passages from the Bandini books, as well as assorted other autobiographical Fante short stories and novels, to create a sketchy meta-narrative. The Reader breezes from vignette to vignette, covering Fante's baseball-mad boyhood, his Catholic guilt, his transition to marriage and fatherhood, and his feast-or-famine career in the movies. What's missing (because Fante never really wrote about it) is the story's closing act, when Charles Bukowski demanded that his publisher bring Fante's work back into print, sparking a late-in-life career revival for the aging author. It would've been nice had Cooper provided some brief biographical sketches of Fante, to provide context for the author's fictionalized version of the same events, but The John Fante Reader is still a warm introduction to the prose stylings of one of the 20th century's most overlooked great writers. The sections taken from Fante's early novels The Road To Los Angeles, Ask The Dust, and Wait Until Spring, Bandini are particularly fine. Funneling James Joyce's stream-of-consciousness style through Ernest Hemingway's terseness (with a humorist's twist borrowed from his mentor, H.L. Mencken), Fante communicates the self-absorption and self-loathing of a hungry young man, prowling the city streets and praying for a chance to prove his genius. The material written just prior to Fante's death is a little softer, with the author's bitterness over his neglected potential mitigated by his long, fruitful marriage. Fante's style also changed slightly in his later years, with clever turns of phrase often replacing the compact, character-driven plotting of his youth. Still, as juxtaposed by Cooper, the two eras of Fante fit together to form the only slightly gappy image of a man who had something wise, sad, and funny to say about life, and who, for 30-odd years, was too distracted to say it.