Ask The Dust Summary

John Fante

Ask The Dust

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Ask The Dust Summary

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Ask the Dust is the third novel by Italian-American author John Fante. Published in 1939, the semi-autobiographical novel follows a writer, Arturo Bandini, as he struggles through life in 1930s Los Angeles. It is the most famous of the “Bandini Quartet,” the four novels revolving around the life of Arturo Bandini, and was adapted to a major film in 2006. Now considered an American classic, the novel received neutral to poor reviews at the time of publication.

Notable themes include the promise and complications of the American Dream, overcoming poverty, and perseverance against racial prejudice. It is told in the first person with a comic undertone; Arturo makes numerous literary references, from Frederick Nietzsche to Theodore Dreiser. Along with its vivid and humorous prose, Ask the Dusk is well-regarded for its visceral depictions of Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

The novel opens with Arturo Bandini, Fante’s alter-ego, wondering whether he should pay the bill for a motel stay or try to cheat his way out of it. He is 20 years old, new to Los Angeles, and wants to be a famous writer more than anything.

The rundown hotel is in downtown Los Angeles, on Bunker Hill. Bandini chooses not to think about this by exercising, then writing. He reflects on how prideful and optimistic he was when he first arrived in Los Angeles; now he doesn’t have enough money to afford a real meal and eats oranges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

He is slightly depressed that his only published short story, “The Little Dog Laughed,” hasn’t earned him widespread acclaim, even though it was published in a respectable literary journal and earned him enough money to move from his hometown of Denver, Colorado, to LA.(This is the exact situation Fante found himself in the mid 1930s.) In fact, the only person who seems impressed by this accomplishment is a 14-year-old girl named Judy.

Back in Colorado, he thought “the American Dream” would be a lot easier to achieve. He notes that his ambitions are complicated by the Great Depression.

Depressed, Bandini walks to a nearby diner. He is instantly love-struck by a Mexican-American waitress, Camilla Lopez.

Though it’s obvious that Camilla is in love with her co-worker, Sam, Bandini observes that Sam has no interest in Camilla; seeing his love object rejected only makes him want to save her even more. Yet there is a paradox: Camilla only seems to like men who treat her poorly. Bandini then attempts to treat her poorly: he often fails, though some critics describe the majority of their relationship as “sadistic”.

Through his interactions with Camilla, Bandini bolsters his own low self-esteem. They begin a courtship, and Camilla’s thoughts on love help him figure out what he wants from a relationship. He gains a greater understanding of what is expected of men in American society.Camilla and Bandini also discuss the racial prejudice they’ve both experienced, and consider ways they can rise above it.

During their relationship, Bandini gets serious about his novel. Camilla is his muse, but also threatens to undermine his work with her own unpredictable thoughts and emotions. They seem to love and hate each other deeply.

Ask the Dust spends a lot of time detailing Bandini’s quotidian habits. Everyday, he struggles to reconcile his desires with the teachings of the Catholic Church.It becomes clearer and clearer that Bandini will be able to overcome his challenges, while Camilla will succumb to them.

One day, Bandini publishes another short story in a respectable literary magazine. The story, “Long Lost Hills,” was published with the help of his mentor, J.C. Hackmuth. (In Fante’s life, a similar situation played out with the great cultural critic H.L. Mencken.) The magazine pays him $175, which was worth about $3000 in today’s money.

Overtime, Camilla loses her mental stability. She is forced into a mental institution. She is later moved to a second institution, but escapes while the staff is transporting her.

Bandini frantically searches the city for her. Exhausted, he eventually returns home, feeling defeated. To his surprise, Camilla is waiting for him at his front door.

In the meantime, he has finally sold a novel for $500 (around $8,600). He thinks that if he died right now he would die a happy man. His celebrations are cut short by Camilla’s declining health. She keeps vomiting up her food and smoking marijuana incessantly.

To help her regain mental equilibrium, Bandini arranges for the two of them to live in Laguna Beach. He buys her a puppy, Willie,to comfort her. After dropping her off at the beach house, he drives back to LA to retrieve his possessions. When he returns to the beach house, he’s shocked to see that Camilla and the dog have vanished.

Bandini sees his book in a shop. He’s pleased, but not as thrilled as when his short story, “The Little Dog Laughed,” was published. He’s also unable to focus because he still doesn’t know where Camilla is.

One day he receives a postcard from Sam saying that Camilla is at his house in the desert and he should come get her because she annoys him. Bandini leaves immediately. When he arrives, Sam informs him that Camilla offered to help a seriously ill Sam, but he told her to leave his property immediately. For the past three days, she has been wandering in the desert.

Bandini looks for Camilla in the desert. He is increasingly terrified that he won’t find her. Tragically, he doesn’t.

He returns to Sam’s house. He takes his personal copy of his novel, writes a dedication to Camilla, and throws it with all his strength in the direction that Camilla went. The hope is that one day she will find the novel he wrote for her.