An unreliable narrator, Arturo Bandini, relates his highest accomplishments (writing short stories and a novel) and his deepest failures (finding love). His piques of racism and misogyny are followed by moments of tenderness and compassion for the same woman. He’s a man hard to admire, yet equally hard to forget or not care about. For this reader, at least, he’s one who will have to be revisited, re-evaluated, through the pages of the author’s other volumes in the The Saga of Arturo Bandini sequence. Bandini succeeds in the imagination where he hasn’t in his fictive life—one must know more about him.
This novel put me in mind of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger
and Italo Svevo’s Zeno’s Conscience
. While Hamsun’s unnamed narrator is more horrific and more hungry, and Svevo’s narrator is more comic, the three share that out-of-place-in-the-world persona and their authors exploit them well in presenting unforgettable narratives and characters. Ask the Dust
is bleak. It’s not a fun story. Fante’s Bandini earns his sympathy slowly. In that regard, Fante’s minimalism is akin to Cormac McCarthy, whose work I admire greatly. If forced to choose, I’d stick with McCarthy; since I don’t expect to face that choice, I’ll horde McCarthy, and take on more Fante as I stumble into them.