Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

First, I apologize for the delay in getting this up. There were distractions and responsibilities that prohibited my finishing Love Medicine yesterday.

Second, I can’t tell you who listed this book as I have (again) misplaced my Top Ten book.

Third, I loved this book.

The End.

(just kidding!)

Love Medicine is a beautiful book of three generations. There are so many reasons I loved this book. I will list some below.

  1. The different narrators. Each chapter is narrated by a different character. Some only narrate once (June and Beverly are the two I can remember off the top of my head) but their impact to the storyline can be felt throughout the entire story. Each narrator’s voice is different from the other. The story spans 4 generations (if you count King Jr, the only one from the 4th generation to speak) and so there are similarities between the narrators from each generation (Lulu and Marie have some narrative things in common, the women that really are the birth of the whole story in terms of genealogical timelines). But, each narrator has language and ways of forming thoughts and telling stories that is different and unique. This isn’t always achieved by an author telling a story in this format, but Erdrich kills at doing it.
  2. The secrets and the lies and the influence of these on each generation. I am lucky enough to come from a multi generational family that I knew quite well (my great grandmother lived until I was 19, my grandmas on both side are still alive). There were undercurrents and murmurs under the undercurrents when I was a child. Not that there were huge secrets that I have ever known or large dysfunctions but I think every family and every community has things that the next generation don’t know. There are still some things that I hear from my father that are new information. There are things that he wonders about as well from when he was a kid. Erdrich explores this theme throughout the book in a way that intertwines with each character and each story.
  3. The experience of living as an American Indian in the 20th century. Because Erdrich delivers stories living within a story and because all the characters have at least half American Indian blood, you leave the book feeling that you know a little bit about the experience. Obviously, I am not saying I am now an expert on what it is like or an expert on anything. But it gave me a small taste that I now carry with me always.
  4. Being with characters as they age. One thing I have always loved about multi-generational story lines is watching characters age, seeing the changes they experience within and without themselves. You live in Marie’s skin from 14 when she has a bad experience with a nun at the convent to her old age. You live in Lulu’s skin from when she is 14 and jilted by the man she loves and runs to live with a recluse on an island and to have his child to when she is very old and visited by the ghost of that first love. We read sometimes to know ourselves better. Multi-generational books give me the experience of aging, it gives me a context to put my own experience into.
  5. The recurrent theme that the novel centers around, that of love and betrayal because of that love.

Now, this, this is truly:

THE END.

Have a great weekend!

Rattle of Want by Gay Degani

Since Kim interviewed Gay Degani about Rattle of Want last week, I thought it would be cool to take this week to give my thoughts on the book. After all, Kim loved the book…and I was pretty fond of it myself.

For those who don’t know already, Rattle of Want is a collection of stories. It’s flash fiction for a most part, a few are fairly experimental flash sorts of pieces and there’s even a novella-in-flash. Good stuff, and right up my alley.

There’s quite a lot of variety in Rattle of Want. Loss, humor, redemption, beauty—there’s as many subjects and characters are there are forms Degani makes use of. For a personal favorite, and certainly for humor, I don’t think you could go wrong with “Blusterfuck”:

You stride into the living room of Layla and Henry’s luxe mountain cabin, your overnighter catching on the door jam. You’ve driven three-hours in the clunky Subaru because your ex claimed the Caddie in the divorce.

Henry is sprawled on the couch watching a sports-talk program — something about the Dodgers — and holy crap, next to him is Rex the blow-hard, the braggart, the Blusterfuck. It’s all you can do not to flip a bitch and head home. Then Henry, lovely, oblivious Henry gets up and gives you a hug. Blusterfuck grunts a greeting over his shoulder.

*****

He sees himself as jovial, hilarious, but humble, too, don’t you know, just another wealthy Joe out of Westwood. You, however, have a different take, and picture him head down in the toilet, under the wheels of your Subaru, or better yet, down the mountain, tied to a railroad track for the 4:30 Amtrak pass.

For touching, why not “Beyond the Curve”:

Three months after Allen Winter’s bicycle became a tangle of aluminum on Huntington Drive, his widow Carol moved into a small cottage along the Arroyo. The new property was tucked into a curve of the road, the narrow front yard closed off by white oleander and a six-foot iron fence. The path leading to the front door, visible at the gate, soon became invisible because, like the street, it too was curved.

*****

“Go ahead,” he said. “Make fun of me. Just buy a magazine, okay?”

*****

She should send this pushy boy packing. He would so, she thought, if she explained about Allen. Allen. How he loved to ride that damn bike. She started through the iron gate into the empty street.

When she slowly turned back, eyes wet, the kid stood in his bare feet, his baggy shorts now resting on his hips, Spiderman underwear peeping out, the magazine pamphlet unfurled in his hand, his face eager. She shook her head and strode away, heart squeezing and unsqueezing, up the path.

*****

She waved. “I’ll take one or two of those magazines. Let me get my wallet.”

The stories in Rattle of Want are like you wandered into an unfrequented part of your basement and found a staircase into a tiny yet fascinating and intricate world. You just climb down in, often forgetting about the world above. Though the emotions evoked were as varied as they were intense, I was always enjoying the read.

Rattle of Want is definitely a recommend from me. Kim and I don’t always agree (or agree completely even when we do agree), but we agree on this one.

In which I interview Gay Degani, author of Rattle of Want

Today, we are doing something a little different than normal. But, not entirely out of the ordinary for us.

First, the backstory: anyone that knows me as a reader or reads this blog on a consistent basis knows of the special place short stories hold in my heart. A few weeks ago, Dave messaged and asked if I would like to interview a fellow author, Ms. Gay Degani. I loved both prior interviews I had with both Dave himself, and Jeremy Morong (*waves, hi Jeremy!*) so I immediately and without hesitation said yes, yes, I would.

I am so, so excited I did. I made contact with Gay, and we quickly bonded over a love for audio books and certain books in general. Then she provided me with a copy of Rattle of Want and I set to work reading. It really did not take long. And, I was blown away. I emailed her back and told her that even though I had rarely written creatively in years, the way her stories flowed and the way she told them made me want to pick up a pen and start writing again. All of them had a sense of expectation to them, a sense of loss, and a sense that the world is more poetry than we give it credit for being. This is a book that I feel anyone can relate to one or more of the stories, as they deal with a lot of what it means to be a human in this world, alive and full of wants and needs.

Anyway, the majority of my interview with Ms. Degani dealt with reading, since you know, that is what a lot of of this blog is about. But there are a few questions in there about her writing as well. If you want to know more about Gay, please go to her website gaydegani.com, in which you can see the full and complete literary life she leads, that I don’t touch much on in this interview.

 

1.  In the author bio for Rattle of Want, it says you left writing to the side for years. During this time did you keep reading for pleasure? Did you do any form of writing? Letters? Journals?

I’ve always read and always written, the reading constant, the writing, well, hit and miss.  Reading is what I love to do and all it requires of me is to show up.  Writing is more difficult, or rather, writing for publication is what is challenging.

My parents read to me, Heidi, Old Yeller, Hans Brinker until I was old enough to read myself.  I remember my dad took me to the library and had me pick out books. I had no idea what to choose and when we got home, the whole enterprise felt to hard.  I pretended to read. The next time we went, my dad asked the librarian to find me books. She gave me Squanto and I loved it. I’ve read voraciously ever since.

2. List YOUR top ten favorite books. If you can’t think of ten, list as many as you can. Explain any of them that you’d like. 

This is not an easy thing to do; there are so many.  Squanto, Little Women, Heidi, Call of the Wild, Tom Sawyer, Johnny Tremain, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Ethan Frome, Count of Monte Cristo, The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, anything by Zane Gray, Nine Coaches Waiting, Rebecca, Tom Ripley, anything from Agatha Christie, Stone Diaries, Angle of Repose, Nat Turner, Affliction,1000 Acres, I, Claudius, Claudius The God,  We Were the Mulvaneys, Cat’s Eye, Accidental Tourist, House of Sand and Fog, Atonement, White Teeth….

Okay, I’m trying to remember them in some kind of timeline order, and I’ve left out lots of favorites, but this gives the range of what I like, fiction, non-fiction, biography, history, and of course,I’m a bit of an anglophile. I have a whole thing about the Wars of the Roses.

***(fyi, Gay, I didn’t notice originally, but it is nice to see someone else list We Were the Mulvaneys and Atonement in their list of favorites!! We shall have to talk those too at some point)*** (this is me deciding to leave a note to her on the blog versus sending an email. You are welcome for the interruption).

3. When actively in the middle of writing a story, do you have to avoid reading or listening to other stories?

I never avoid “reading” under any circumstance.  Mostly I listen  and have for years.  I walk around with a dorkie fanny pack and earbuds. Right now I’m listening to The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have Tami Hoag, Laura Lippman, Michael Connolly, and David McCullough checked out of the library. Reading paper books is reserved for books I read from my friends.

4. How did you decide the stories in Rattle of Want all belonged together in one volume? Or was it just a gathering of all of them out there?

It was an extended process.  First I went through to find all my stories that I considered the best.  I’d published some in a chapbook calledPomegranate and wanted to include the stories from there that had either won a prize or had not been published elsewhere. Then I took a class with Randall Brown where we tried to figure out what worked the best together.  I owe the title Rattle of Want to him. He gleaned it from one of my stories, and I am ever grateful.  Once the title was decided on, I went through to find stories that lent themselves to that idea. For me, most of them did. Part of that is that I believe it’s important to write stories about people who want something, strive for it, and either succeed or fail.

5.  Most of your stories seemed to me to deal with loss on some level, from big to the tiny little losses that life provides daily. Did you set out with that specific theme in mind?

I don’t know if I exactly set out to write about loss, but loss creates strong emotions in people and the response characters have to loss resonates with all of us.

6.  A lot of the stories take place in the past. Are there bits and pieces of your childhood scattered about?

I draw a lot on past experiences.  Some of what I write comes from a specific incident in my life, but usually with raised stakes. I’ve lived a very ordinary life and though I’ve experience a full range of emotional set-backs, they serve more as research than actual reportage. This is why I don’t write memoir.  I don’t want to bore people to death.

7. Favorite place to read? Why?

Mostly I read “on the go.” I listen to books on CD when I do dishes, mop the floor, water the pots on the patio, drive in car, take a daily walk, any possible place that has a repetitious element to it. I would love to have the luxury of curling up on the sofa and reading all day as I did as a child and teenager, but that just isn’t practical for me.

Pay attention to this following question, audiobook lovers, you may have just found your next listen! (And Davina Porter does narrate all of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series).

9. List 3 audiobooks you have loved partly due to the reader.

Davina Porter is outstanding.  She does Elizabeth George’s books.  I think she does all the Diana Gabaldon books.  If not, I like that reader also. I can’t remember who reads the John Sandford books but he’s excellent as is the one who does Jack Reacher. I like Ian Rankin’s reader too.


10. Do you feel listening to an audiobook still qualifies as reading? (This is pretty contested in some parts).

I have a friend who once told me audio books were “cheating?” Er, uh, no.  Stories were spoken before they were written down. And isn’t it just as good to listen as to read? Good writing is about putting pictures in your head, involving you in an experience that you might have or not have yourself, and making your think about your life, the lives of others, and the human condition.  What does it matter what the vehicle is?

11. In your opinion, deeper than entertainment value, why do you think people are drawn towards literature? (Even popular fiction) what do you believe they’re looking for?

When any one asks if I practice a religion, I tell them I belong to the church of literature.  Most of what I know, feel, and care about came to me through books.

12. Favorite snack while reading or writing. 

I like to have ice tea when I’m writing.  But when I’m hungry, I usually stop and eat lunch (grilled cheese, hot dog,  or apple cut up in cottage cheese). Since most of my reading isn’t sitting down, I might make an english muffin or eat a piece of fruit.

13. What’s next on your horizon? What (in broad outline not specifics!) are you working on next?

I’d like to finish my prequel to my suspense novel, What Came Before. I’d like to write another stand alone mystery.  Don’t think I can commit to write a series.  Home life is too, too busy. Continue to write flash and short stories. In my head, I have a trilogy about my family who came from France in the 1700s first in Quebec and then Louisiana, and I have two longer short stories I’ve been waiting to get good enough to write.

14. What book(s) do you find yourself re reading multiple times? Why?

There are a couple of books I’ve read a few times, but not many.  I don’t really do multiples.  I’m sure I’ve read Little Women maybe three times, Jane Eyre, Tale of Two Cities, probably twice at least. Ethan Frome because I taught it five or six. There’s too much to read out there.  I want to read all the good ones at least once and then I’ll start over.

And this is all for today. I want to give Gay a huge thank you for allowing Dave and myself to interview her for 11 And A Half Years of Books, and for her taking the time amidst a very busy schedule to answer my various emails and then finally my questions. Please, do check out her website at gaydegani.com and also check out Rattle of Want, I promise you will not regret it.

JR by William Gaddis

These days, most people who know William Gaddis seem to know him for his epic novel The Recognitions. A few know him for The Tunnel, but those people are mistaken because that was written by William Gass. Some know more of his work, including JR (the book I’m actually talking about here), but The Recognitions seems to be the first thing people think of any more when they think of Gaddis. It’s funny, considering that The Recognitions was originally poorly received and it was only when the more popular JR came out that Gaddis started getting attention as a master of literature. Not a whole lot of people make it through any Gaddis, as he does tend to write long books of convoluted prose. When they do, it seems to usually be The Recognitions. This is a shame, considering how fun JR is.

People should read both.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 1st for Lydia Millet.)

Though an immense book full of some dense but amazingly written prose, JR is a hilarious novel. The title is the name of an eleven-year-old boy obsessed with capitalism who takes some worthless penny stocks and, through various means of hiding his age such as payphones, parlays them into a vast empire worth a fortune. Or, well, a fortune on paper. It’s a house of cards, ready to tumble down at any time. None of it is worth any more than the valueless penny stocks he starts out with, but things get so complicated and turned around that it’s hard to say. If you haven’t ever worried about how much faith is involved in modern financial empires, you might after reading JR.

Combine all that with the confusing cacophony Gaddis is known for being able to create, and you have a heck of a book. It can definitely getting taxing to read all that, Gaddis is no slouch, but it’s a wondrous thing to behold if you do:

—Hullo? Let me talk to Mister Piscator please, this…yeah this is J…Yeah this is him, I sound like I’m where…? Tell him that yes tell him that’s why I’m in a hurry because I…hello? Nonny? look, I just talked to this broker Mister Wiles about this whole Ace and Alberta…what? No didn’t she just tell you…? No well some of these overseas connections are real good but…no I can hear you fine, look I called you to…No well that’s what I called about, I just heard the whole thing went…Okay but where does that leave me? I mean if I was the biggest holder they had in both…what? I already told you because it was real cheap, now so where does this…possible what…? But what good are leases on mineral exploration rights if I…okay but what good are tax write-offs for mineral exploration if like what am I supposed to do, go out there with a hat and shovel looking…not a hatful of no I said a shovel and go looking for these here virgin…what? No I mean these minerals what’s the difference of that and you said probably all Alberta and Western has left is this bunch of rights of way and leases to …No I know I can’t so look, when you find it all out you can…no now can you hear me? I said tell Mister Bast. Did he call you yet about…No I know it but see he’s been doing a lot of reading up on all this and he…No, sure I know it’s inconvenient but see we’re changing that office up there over to these picturephones which the telephone company says they take longer to…No I know he doesn’t but see we’re still shorthanded down there too so Virginia’s been…Not down in Virginia, no I said Virginia the secre…no I know she’s not the brightest secre…No from Mister Bast, he was supposed to call you once him and Mister Wonder got together and got this whole deal all…No I know this other brother did but see I just got this call from this Mister Mooneyham at…he did? What did you tell him…? No but look see instead of just trying to get back that Wonder stock this brother loaned him as collateral for X-L suppose we just take over the whole…No but I just told this broker to get me the book value on it and all so see if we…Okay can you hear me? look, once the pension fund buys out Wonder it could just sell the stock right back and it would be overrefunded so…what? Overfunded I said yes so we’d never have to put anything in it again, see then the pension fund would be all set and these here Wonder employees would like own this stock of their own company and we get to keep this almost three million dollars of these unpaid dividends against Eagle’s tax loss credit carryforward understand what I mean? Which then instead of just trying to clear up that X-L thing we could move in and…what do you mean lose the brewery, we…Oh. Okay I didn’t’ think of that but look, if you think they might buy this stock and vote it to put up these new officers that would declare this big dividend and the whole thing would collapse, is that what you said? Okay then look, if we set them up this employees’ stock option plan where they buy this here stock but see we keep the voting rights so we can…What do you mean go to jail? why should…no now…no now look…No now look Nonny, see I’m not asking you what I can do, I’m telling you what I want to do and paying you to find out how I can do it, understand what I…what? No didn’t’ you get it yet… No it’s coming to you from Eagle, I just talked to Miter Hopper up there and he said the check’s in the mail and look, he’s got this here old lawsuit up there about this cemetery which it’s right in the middle of this right of way, you can get the whole story on it later from Mister Bast see but the thing is settle it, see but…for anything just settle it, see but not till we have this okay on this here loan to management, I mean don’t make it sound like we’re holding out see but lit it’s just this regular thing you happened to…Sure I think you know your business or why would I…No there’s just a couple of things like this new issue on this string of these nursing homes that this broker sent me all the…No because it’s real cheap and then there’s some Italian drug company this other broker says is…no I didn’t’ look into them yet but look…A figure loomed into the glass panel over his shoulder, —look…he hunched lower, —I have this meeting I have to…what? Back in what country…Oh, oh sure tomorrow this was just this short…for this meeting yes, I…to incorporate what? Just a second…he cracked the door open, and over a shoulder —You need this here phone Mister Gibbs…? and at a nod, —okay just a second…and the crack closed, —sure go ahead then if you think that’s…In Jamaica? how come you…no I said go ahead, you can tell all this to Mister Bast when you and him…no well I just think he’s been too busy lately to get a new suit he…okay…and the door shuddered open. —Just a second Mister Gibbs, let me get this stuff…

Frankly, I never thought that Gaddis could be funny, but JR is a riot. It may still be a bit confusing, what with all the unattributed dialogue and unannounced switches in character, place, and/or time, but JR is still the easiest to understand Gaddis I’ve seen yet. JR may not be quite as sublime as The Recognitions, but I liked it a great deal.

Author Pseudonyms

So, going a little different today.  And next week, also have a little something different for everybody (possibly).

A couple of weeks ago I found a book, Cuckoo Calling by Robert Gailbraith. It was a mystery, with a main character private investigator and his temporary Girl Friday. I loved, loved, loved it. One of the best “crime” “detective” novels I’ve read in a long time. Some of you already know the twist I am about to reveal. Some of you don’t.

Galbraith is known in their major author career as the woman who created seven novels around a boy. A boy with a distinctive lightning scar on his forehead, who was prophesied to kill the big, evil baddie. Yes, Galbraith is none other than J.K. Rowling.

This got me to thinking about authors using pseudonyms. Poor Rowling, her identity got leaked right from the beginning. It’s a shame to me, thinking of all the people that probably read the book and then said they hated it. It’s an amazingly written book, but there is absolutely no level of fantastical about it. In fact, if you happened to read it, and you had a copy in which they did not put ON THE BOOK that it was J.K. Rowling, you would never guess. She wanted to do it to see if she could write something not as Rowling. She wanted to experience the way it would be if she hadn’t written Harry Potter. It even got rejected by a publisher. That would not have happened had she signed it J.K. Rowling. Also, it’s a good way to separate the two series, as the genres are nothing alike and there are absolutely no similarities between the two. So, don’t go looking for any easter eggs, there are none.

Another author who actually managed to keep his real identity a secret for TEN years is Joe Hill. Joe Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King. For ten years, he wrote under the name Joe Hill (still does today), that was how the entire publishing world and public knew him. He wrote a graphic novel series called Locke & Key (fantastic, do yourself a favor and read them), then went on to write a short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts and a full length horror novel, Heartshaped Box. Right around this time, he began to make more public appearances. joe-hill

He looks a lot like someone else who writes horror, doesn’t he? Like, maybe this guy?

stephen-king

At that point, enough people began guessing that he came out of the pseudonym closet. He has said that he wanted to know he could be published and read on his own merit. Instead of because he was Stephen King’s son.

Stephen King himself wrote under a different name. Richard Bachmann. When he did this, it was because at that time publishers thought a writer should only publish one book a year. Stephen King wanted to publish more because he wrote more. Enough people began guessing that he was outed by the 4th or 5th book.

Historically, all three of the Bronte sisters wrote under male pseudonyms. Which, considering what some reviewers said of Wuthering Heights might have been good. It was called dark and brutal. If it had been known that a woman wrote that, during the 1800s, it’s possible Emily would have been committed to an asylum.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote under a pseudonym for a couple of books.

I can see how someone switching genres might want to write under a different name. They get devoted fan following. Could you imagine if Jodi Picoult wrote a horror novel? She would be massacred by her followers. Or if Branden Sandersen wrote a romance novel?

Weigh in on what you think in the comments below:)

And check out Joe Hill. If you saw the movie Horns (which there are some degrees of separation here between my authors, as Daniel Radcliffe played the main role), then you have seen a movie adaptation of one of Hill’s books.

And read Galbraith, especially if you like mystery novels.

That is all:) Have a great weekend! For those of you at AWP, have a great time!

Alice Munro Short Stories

My Top Ten book has gotten up and walked away. I don’t know who listed Alice Munro, but I swear to you she is in there!

Munro has a few different collections of stories out there. They seem to be all very long short stories, or even novellas. The three different books I looked at had 8 each. Most of the ones I read were from The Love of a Good Woman.

I buy a lot of my books used. Sometimes you find things in them that make you wonder about the prior owner. This one had an inscription, “Wendy, Title says it all. Love, RB, Christmas ’99”. I wonder where Wendy and RB went. Did they break up? Are they married still and Wendy just isn’t that sentimental while decluttering? Did she secretly hate the book and got rid of it? Did she secretly hate RB and get rid of the book? I know this has nothing to do with the actual book, but I find the random bits in used or library books fascinating. You know they have a story attached to them as well, and it’s fun to imagine what that story might be.

In this collection, which I assume is probably indicative of others of hers, Munro is stunning with her use of time jumps and character switches. She uses events that don’t seem very well connected upon first glance but worm their way under your skin anyway, leaving you with the feeling that the story wouldn’t be complete without them.

Her endings are a little disappointing to me. I’m  not sure why. I think because there’s no clear cut resolution. But, I don’t think that is it either as I read plenty of stories like that and do not usually have an issue. They all do seem very melancholy even if there is a bit of hope in them. Maybe that’s what I don’t like. Not that I need a happy ending but maybe it’s a bit of both. That they’re vague endings, just cutting off in a life, and also melancholy.

Alice Munro is from Canada. Her stories are all set pretty much in Canada, though the United States are referenced. It’s interesting, because I’m unsure if the basic personality differences I see are more related to culture or time period. A lot of her stories take place in the past, or have bits of the past stuck through them.

I have bought a second collection of Munro’s stories. I’ll be reading those as well. I’m unsure why I’ve always passed her over while looking at books. I’m sad that I did. But, this is one of the reasons I do like using the Top Ten to find books from. I’ve discovered so many great works of literature and great authors.

Excuse the brevity of this blog, I haven’t been feeling well all day. This is on top of having two sleepovers for Amelia here on consecutive nights. So, now I might go crawl into bed to lay for awhile. Everyone around me seems to be sick in some way too. My mother has a double ear infection and strep throat. That’s usually something more reserved for children, so that’s odd. Other friends have some weird influenza resembling virus. Hopefully, I have neither and am mainly having exhaustion issues.

Have a happy Easter!

 

 

Ask the Dust by John Fante

Me again. No worries, Kim will be back for the next two weeks. Anyway, on to this week.

Like many Fante aficionados, I came to the works of John Fante by a winding route. I was obsessed with the beats for a while, leading someone to clue me into Charles Bukowski. An eventual obsession with Bukowski of course led me to Fante, one of the writers he looked up to most. In fact, I’m not sure anyone would be reading Fante now if Bukowski hadn’t worked so hard to rescue Fante’s work from obscurity. Bukowski himself seemed to think Fante’s work was superior, and his advocacy for continued attention to it was perhaps the purest thing Bukowski ever did. Regardless, that all led to Fante’s Ask the Dust.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 9th for Douglas Coupland, 9th for Heidi Julavits, and 4th for George Pelecanos.)

In Ask the Dust, Arturo Bandini is a young struggling writer living in a Los Angeles slum during the depression. He isn’t going anywhere fast, but neither is anyone else at that time.

One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the very middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.

*****

“I just got a letter form my agent,” I told her. “My agent in New York. He says I sold another one; he doesn’t say where, but he says he’s got one sold. So don’t worry Mrs. Hargraves, don’t you fret, I’ll have it in a day or so.”

But she couldn’t believe a liar like me. It wasn’t really a lie; it was a wish, not a lie, and maybe it wasn’t even a wish, maybe it was a fact, and the only way to find out was watch the mailman, watch him closely, check his mail as he laid it on the desk in the lobby, ask him point blank if he had anything for Bandini. Bit I didn’t have to ask after six months at that hotel. He saw me coming and he always nodded yes or no before I asked: no, three million times; yes, once.

He falls in love with a waitress named Camilla. Camilla is herself in love with a co-worker who can’t stand her. Bandini struggles to stay alive, struggles with himself, and struggle with his love for Camilla as she disintegrates. He tries to rescue her, but she continues following the co-worker who hates her. Eventually, the co-worker drives her away and she walks off into the empty desert.

I left him standing there and walked out a quarter of a mile to the top of the ridge. It was so cold I pulled my coat around my throat. Under my feet the earth was churning of course dark sand and little stones, the basin of some prehistoric sea. Beyond the ridge were other ridges like it, hundreds of them stretching infinitely away. The sandy earth revealed no footstep, no sign that it had ever been trod. I walked on, struggling through the miserable soil that gave slightly and then covered itself with crumbs of grey sand.

After what seemed like two miles, I sat on a round white stone and rested. I was perspiring, and yet it was bitterly cold. The moon was dipping toward the north. It must have been after three. I had been walking steadily but slowly in a rambling fashion, still the ridges and mounds continued, stretching away without end, with only cactus and sage and ugly plants I didn’t know marking it from the dark horizon.

Personally, Ask the Dust is one of my favorite works by John Fante. It’s gritty in a way that is very different from more testosterone focused male writers. Bandini is imperfect, but in a personal way rather than an admonishing way. The sentences are tight and clean, but there is a soulful beauty that seems most important. Life is hard, but people struggle anyway. One of the ever-present themes seems to suggest the title of one of Bukowski’s books of poetry, What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire. If I were ever able to choose a list of favorite books, one of Fante’s would almost have to make it. Ask the Dust might be that one.