Posted by Hunter Prichard
Hidden in the depths of the murky world of writing stands a man named John Fante – an Italian-American from Los Angeles who wrote interesting and vibrant novels of city life told through the eyes of his alter-ego, Arturo Bandini.
There have been movies made of Fante's work, and the author has both a square named after him in Los Angeles and an extensive Wikipedia page.
However, little is made of his work. Like Charles Portis, he is the creative reader's favorite secret.
Fante's last novel, "Dreams from Bunker Hill," is a return to his early years.
Like Hemmingway, who chose to end his life while working on a memoir-type work — "A Moveable Feast" — Fante wrote this later novel after succumbing to blindness as a result of diabetes. He orated the text to his wife.
Even though Fante was suffering toward the end, there is no hint of his pain in the work. It is as vibrant, funny and emotional as his earlier works.
Our character is Arturo, a young, aspiring writer living alone in a Los Angeles slum during the American depression. He is an arrogant and forceful man, accepting and leaving jobs as he struts the streets searching for women and making up crazy stories.
He tries to be a screenwriter and is petitioned to write a movie with Velda, a large, brassy, insipid woman whom he dislikes. Instead of working with her, Arturo sits in his room alone and finishes the screenplay in a matter of weeks.
He gives it to her so she can "edit" it. She proceeds to rewrite the entire story, the studio buys it and Arturo, in a fit of shame and desperation, takes his name off the picture, which ends up flopping.
Bandini is a man who knows what he wants in life. He does not know how to get it, but he knows what he wants.
He is difficult to like, yet there is something eerily romantic about an outcast who lives and acts alone. Whether he is blowing off work to type stories, or trying to get a girl who obviously does not want him, or morphing into a drunk with a writer 10 years older than him, he remains himself.
For all the levity and laughter in Fante's work, there is also a great amount of humanity and sadness. At the end of the novel, Arturo returns to his family at their home in Boulder, Colorado.
In Boulder, Bandini is humbled by his parents and lauded as a saint by his siblings. He comes from a family that is "stuck" in the same town – he is the only one who decided to leave to see what America had to offer him.
While reading this novel I felt that I knew Arturo like the back of my hand. I saw Los Angeles through his eyes.
When he returns and describes the street where he grew up ("How much of my life I had spent here, under the quiet elms, our house a block away – Christmas and baseball and first communion and Halloween and kites and sleigh rides and ballgames and Easter and graduation . . .") there is a deep richness to how he remembers his past.
He is only there for a few days before returning to Los Angeles.
Although his short trip might seem superfluous, as it has nothing to do with writing and drinking and love, it is important for Fante to show the reader where Arturo came from.
Until this point in the story, readers have an idealistic portrayal of this character and feel as if he is simply a boy who exists without roots, foundations or parents.
"Fante is my God," wrote Charles Bukowski, another poor writer based in Los Angeles.
Fante is not my God, but I understand the attraction that he has to young readers, especially those who grew up as outsiders and were intoxicated with the thrill and desperation of life.
Hunter Prichard is an English major from Portland, Maine.