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.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Cannonball Read 9: Another Country by James Baldwin

James Baldwin's Another Country is a sprawling novel that details the lives of a group of musicians, writers and artists in 1950's Greenwich Village. Thrown right into a cold New York City night, the story begins with urgency, as we follow the young Rufus Scott wandering the dark city streets, broke and broken. Baldwin immediately draws the reader in, setting us on a bumpy and often harrowing path exploring interracial relationships, extramarital affairs, bisexuality, as well as self delusion and its consequences.

Baldwin began writing the novel in Greenwich Village in 1948. He completed it on a kitchen counter in Istanbul in 1962. From Paris he had traveled to Turkey, arriving in poor health, depressed, and feeling that he had lost sight of his aims as a writer. Carrying with him an "unpublishable manuscript" that was "ruining his life", Baldwin claimed the characters simply wouldn't speak to him. On the brink of suicide, his novel had literally almost killed him. Taken care of by friends, away from his tempestuous life and relationships, he managed to conclude his 14 years of torment.

Reading Another Country is a frustrating experience. It is, rather understandably, uneven. The first third of the novel is its strongest, ranking with some of the best writing I have ever read. As a whole, however, it is muddled, and even infuriating in its failure to live up to its full potential. Often brutally honest in its exploration of relationships, willful ignorance and jealousy, it remains an intense and uncomfortably familiar read. In fact, I found myself completely obsessed with it when I was reading it, but almost felt it too heavy an emotional burden to pick up again after several hours away from it. It is the first time I have had such an intense and turbulent relationship with a book. I feel entirely serious (and quite ridiculous) stating that I had an almost romantic relationship with it. I love it despite it's flaws and feel quite terrible pointing them out publicly.

An imperfect work, yes, this may nonetheless be the most important literary discovery I've made in years. I hope others may value Baldwin's work as I have. Whether they do or not, I very much look forward to reading every word he has ever had published.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Deistbrawler and Eyvi Sprite, put your machetes away, cancel your flights, for I have survived. I am currently holed up in a small French village outside of Paris with an internet connection and the best Whiskey money can buy. You're more than welcome to stop by.

I found myself in a tiny airport on the outskirts of Stockholm's outskirts. I slept on steel tables, I fought drunken Vikings for scraps of bread, I glugged moonshine at the security gates and wrote a novella with an albino at dawn.

I spent several hours in Oslo airport as well. Norway is the way forward. Stockholm and Sweden are fantastic, but Oslo airport's book selection! I expected a good deal of Knut Hamsun, as he's local. But their small English language selection was better than all of Glasgow's libraries combined. Bukowski, Nabokov, Bret Easton Ellis, Murakami, Camus, Kundera and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name but a few. I felt inclined to move there based on the airport shop's collection alone. But I was informed that that was not a good enough reason to relocate and start life anew. Perhaps not. This is not the first time my impulsive tendencies have been brought into question. As it happens, "So I can watch the whales on the beach" is not a good enough response to the question, "Why is it you want to move to Nova Scotia?". Nonsense. It's as good a reason as any.

So here I am, "sharing" on line. I hope everyone is well.

Okay, this is impulsive. I don't believe in lists, I don't believe in awards. It's crass and pointless. But I still really enjoy them. I don't have the time or the energy to sit around and compile my favourite films of the Aughts, in general or in specific genres. So here is a list of my five favourite cinematic actors of the Aughts. If you don't like it, make your own damn list.

5. Ryan Gosling

4. Vera Farmiga

3. Idris Elba

2. Patricia Clarkson

1. Peter Dinklage

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Let The Right One Out

Dear Sweden,

Please let me leave. It's cold and dark and I can only buy 3.5% beer. I am very impressed with your snow storms, your rich culture and beautiful women. But I am cold. And I have not slept. And I want to go home. I have Cannonballin' to do and these little fingers are struggling to type.

Also, RyanAir is the worst thing to come out of Ireland since Bono.

Dear Readers,

If I have shown no signs of life by Wednesday, avenge death.