Three weeks ago I’d never heard of John Fante. Now I can’t stop thinking about him. I stumbled across the title, “Ask The Dust” in some reading I was doing about Hollywood in the 1930s. A few days later I was holding the book and was surprised to discover it was not only set in 1939 Los Angeles, it was actually written in Los Angeles in 1939. That alone gives the text an immediacy and authority that other, more contemporary books set in the period seem to lack.
It’s a short read but by no means a happy one. It is a searing look at broken people who desperately conceal their vulnerability with calculated meanness. There’s not a hero in the bunch. But there is no schadenfreude to be had here. At times I found the book putting a finger on my own ability to say a mean thing when I actually feel quite the opposite.
“Ask the Dust” is not about the movie industry but it is a rich and satisfying behind the scenes look at the city the movie industry called its home in 1939. Beyond the central characters and storyline is a first hand account of L.A., the Valley and the beach towns as they once existed and never will again.
The HarperPerennial Modern Classics edition of “Ask the Dust” is filled with enough “extras” to make you feel like you got a really good DVD edition of the book. Charles Bukowski’s Introduction is worth half the cost of this paperback.
NOTE: The edition referred to here was released in 2006 to coincide with a movie based on the book. I’ve not seen the movie. But writer/director Robert Towne and Colin Farrel and Salma Hayek as the leads feels about right for this.