Review by Choice Review
Tough guys may not dance and nice guys may finish last, but Fante, symbol of the proletarian tradition in California writing and hard-boiled analyst of Los Angeles's unsaintly sides, is having a good finish after his 1983 death. Ashes in the Dust, his most famous novel, is being reread, and Fante's other books and stories about Italian immigrants are the focus of classes in US fiction and film. Charles Bukowski, Orson Welles, Daryll F. Zanuck, and H.L. Mencken recognized Fante as a rough gem, and John Steinbeck and Nathanael West come to mind when one categorizes Fante. Literary critics are fascinated with Fante's powerful prose and his characters' extreme passions; film students consider Fante's role in the movies that grew to dominate life in L.A. Though becoming recognized as one of the first important Italian American novelists and film writers, Fante is better appreciated in Paris, Rome, and Milan than in the US. This biography may change that. A skilled biographer and writer of award-winning fiction, Cooper (English and film, California State Univ., Long Beach) has written a smooth, carefully detailed account of a complicated man. Including 50 pages of excellent notes and a brief bibliography, this book will be the starting place for future scholars of Fante's disturbing, visionary work. All collections. ; University of Alberta
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Hailed by many as the great novel about L.A., Ask the Dust (Stackpole, 1939) was primed to place Fante--and his alter-ego Arturo Bandini--in the American literary world forever. Cooper, a film lecturer at California State University at Long Beach, beautifully details the hardscrabble life of this little-known American great who squandered his best writing for the riches of Hollywood. Born in 1909 to Italian immigrant parents and educated at Catholic schools in Denver, Colo., at 23 Fante left a fragmented family life for L.A., where he scraped together a living doing manual labor, shipwork and canning in order to write in the evenings. An admirer of H.L. Mencken, Fante began a one-sided correspondence with the famed editor and submitted all his work to the American Mercury, until in 1934 Mencken accepted "Altar Boy," the first of many short stories that Fante would publish. Soon Fante set to work on a novel and, with Mencken's help, he found employment as a Hollywood screenwriter to support himself. Cooper seamlessly pieces together every detail of Fante's life, from the amount he was paid for each script to the gambling debts he incurred. He also tenderly portrays Fante's tumultuous 46-year relationship with his wife, Joyce, and their four children. Joyce would take dictation for the ailing writer, who, before he died in 1983, lost his eyesight and both legs to the ravages of diabetes. Cooper's enthusiasm for Fante is matched only by that of the late Charles Bukowski, who proclaimed that Fante taught him how to write and in the early 1980s encouraged Black Sparrow Press to reissue his work. In the end, Cooper makes a convincing case for Fante's placement on the mantel of the greats. Photos. (Apr.) FYI: Fante's complete works are available through Black Sparrow Press. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A comprehensive and compassionate biography of novelist-screenwriter Fante (1909'83), whose once-forgotten fiction and largely forgettable screenplays are enjoying a renaissance. With apostolic fervor, Cooper (English/Calif. State Univ.) presents convincing evidence that Fante's work should be ranked ``among the finest achievements of twentieth century American writing.'' Beginning his tale with the 50-ish Fante in Rome working on a screenplay, Cooper soon dives back into the murky river of Fante's past and begins to clarify. The son of an immigrant stone worker, he was born in Colorado, attended Catholic schools (graduating from high school ``without distinction''), tried college a few times (unsuccessfully), and eventually headed to California. While working at a variety of menial jobs, Fante, in one of those miracles of self-creation, decided to turn to literature'and in no time at all he was a friend and correspondent of H.L. Mencken, a contributor to the American Mercury, and a novelist published by Knopf. Cooper meticulously chronicles Fante's yo-yo career: his stunning successes (stories were published in prestigious literary magazines; novels like Ask the Dust and Full of Life earned warm reviews) and his miserable failures (he drank heavily, gambled ineffectually, neglected his family for golf, and wasted years writing mindless movies). Most affecting are Fante's final years of suffering: the loss of eyesight and legs to diabetes, the recurrent sojourns in madness'all at a time when his literary reputation was ascending. (During this period he dictated to his wife one final, well-received novel, Dreams from Bunker Hill.) Cooper has Fante's own eye for arresting prose'he describes Fante buying a house so infested with termites that his pregnant wife would one day ``plunge through the rotten floorboards'''and his richly informative endnotes are compelling reading as well. A spirited, scholarly portrait of a man who wrestled with merciless demons and emerged victorious. (17 b&w photos)
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