Post Road Magazine #14

The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante

Ann Wood

It’s one of those books—the author’s first—that wasn’t published until decades after his other works. Although the same thing would happen to Hunter S. Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary, which was published after the fear and loathing sagas made him famous, John Fante would have no such luck. The manuscript for A Road to Los Angeles was found when Fante’s wife, Joyce, was going through his papers after his death in May of 1983—amazing because it is, in this writer’s opinion, Fante’s smartest, funniest book. It is also the novel that meant to introduce the world to Arturo Bandini, Fante’s alter ego who also appears in Wait Until Spring, Bandini; Ask the Dusk, which is his most popular book and was recently adapted into an overly melodramatic film; and Dreams from Bunker Hill.

Had it been published earlier, The Road to Los Angeles would have been what inspired Charles Bukowski—Fante’s most famous fan—to pen Factotum. The books mirror each other in some significant ways. While Factotum (which was also recently released as a film, but a good film) is about all the shitty jobs Bukowski’s autobiographical character Henry Chinaski was forced to take, so is The Road to Los Angeles.

Fante’s first novel opens with the line: “I had a lot of jobs in Los Angeles Harbor because our family was poor and my father was dead.” The author rushes to tell the stories of the short-lived jobs Bandini takes right out of high school and the “buffoons” for whom he works. First he is a ditch digger, next he is a dishwasher, a grocery clerk, a labeler at a cannery. Fante tells these tales in simple and direct sentences, but Bandini’s speech is anything but simple. The character attempts to impress and humiliate nearly everyone he encounters through his use of vocabulary—using words such as folderol and talking about Nietzsche much of the time. It works perfectly because even for those readers with a more limited vocabulary than Bandini, we understand what he’s talking about through Fante. This dichotomy also makes the novel hilarious—and simultaneously sad. The reader feels the “dago’s” need for acceptance, something he finds hard to attain. Especially once he decides he’s a writer and makes the mistake of telling everyone about it. But then there’s the reader’s realization that that’s what writers have to do to convince themselves a book will come.

The reason The Road to Los Angeles wasn’t published earlier, despite a contract with Knopf for which Fante received an advance, is probably because when it was completed in 1936, it was considered too graphic. And no wonder. Bandini attempts to see through the librarian’s skirt, he masturbates in his family’s coat closet to girlie magazines, he throws out racists comments, he denigrates religion and humanity. But, like Bukowski, Fante mostly denigrates himself. That’s what makes the Bandini novels funny and real. That’s what makes The Road to Los Angeles stand up against first books such as The Rum Diary and Bukowski’s Post Office. And stand up tall.

 

Ann Wood is the author of the novel Bolt Risk. A graduate of Bennington College, she later moved to Los Angeles and became an exotic dancer. She is now an award-winning arts and entertainment reporter for The Provincetown Banner, is completing the Bolt Risk screenplay and is at work on her second novel.

 Copyright © 2016 | Post Road Magazine | All Rights Reserved