Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cannonball Read 10: Full of Life by John Fante

John Fante has long been one of my favourite authors. Virtually unknown throughout his life, Fante's work began to gain popularity in the 1970s when Black Sparrow Press republished his out-of-print work at the suggestion of Charles Bukowski. Subsequently, Fante's reputation slowly grew over the years and currently enjoys both critical acclaim and a significant cult following.

Ask The Dust, from Fante's Bandini Saga*, is his most famous novel (a fantastic review here). Similar to Dreams from Bunker Hill, the final Bandini book, both tell the story of a young writer, hot blooded, alone and impulsive, trying to make sense of himself in Los Angeles. As marvelous as these writings are, I have always enjoyed the semi-autobiographical stories that detailed Fante's life and relationship with his family. Two of my favourite Fante novels include The Brotherhood of the Grape and Wait Until Spring, Bandini. The latter - to my knowledge his only novel written in the third person - introduces us to Fante as Bandini, the young son of Italian parents, born into poverty in Colorado. The former sees Fante returning home as a man. Both explore the tense relationships he shared with his excessively devout and overly dramatic mother, as well as with his tough and cantankerous father. Truly the byproduct of both parents, Fante's novels span over decades examining these three characters, all of them bewildered by their differences, yet almost comically unaware of their similarities.

Full of Life is more overtly autobiographical than Fante's other works, as he dispenses with alter egos altogether. The novel opens on John Fante, a man of modest success, home owner, and father to be. One day Fante's very pregnant wife, Joyce, falls through the termite-infested first floor. Though she is unharmed, the Fantes find the price of repairs to be out of their means. As a result, Fante travels from Los Angeles to northern California to request his father's professional expertise. Initially enthusiastic at the notion, Fante quickly finds himself regretting his decision once arrived at his parents' home. The story then centres around Fante being forced to deal with his self pitying father's faux stoicism, as well as his hormonal wife.

Less agonizing and much lighter than the bulk of Fante's work, this is by no means his best novel. It may be his funniest, however. While it is not recommended to Fante newcomers, anyone who has any experience with the Bandini's will delight at this small wonder.

*In the United Kingdom a collection of Fante's novels have been published in recent years under the name "The Bandini Quartet". They include Wait Until Spring, Bandini; The Road To Los Angeles; Ask The Dust and Dreams from Bunker Hill. It is worth noting that The Road To Los Angeles was published posthumously. There is a reason for this: it's bad. Skip it and return to it only once you've completed the TRILOGY. It is not essential. In fact, check out The Wine of Youth instead, a collection of shorts that includes stories based on events written about in The Road To Los Angeles. Who takes care of you? I do, that's who. Happy New Year, sexy. Yeah, you.

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