Ask The Dust Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 45-page guide for “Ask The Dust” by John Fante includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 19 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Search for Home and Belonging and Race, Culture, and Identity.
Ask the Dust is the second and most famous of the Arturo Bandini quartet, a series of autobiographical novels by Italian-American author John Fante. The novel follows the coming-of-age of the young writer, Arturo Bandini, who moves from Colorado to Los Angeles in the late 1930s, at the age of twenty, to launch his career as an author.
At the beginning of the novel, Arturo is consumed by worries about his financial difficulties and his anxieties about his lack of sexual experience. He longs to become a famous author but so far has only published one short story, “The Little Dog Laughed,” which he considers his greatest accomplishment. He is behind on his rent, and his landlady is threatening to evict him.Above all, he fears that he will never become a great writer if he does not gain more experience with women. One night, he goes out on the town and accepts a prostitute’s invitation to go upstairs with her. As soon as he gets inside, however, he gets nervous and begins to remember the injunctions against sexuality ingrained in him during his Catholic upbringing. He leaves without having sex with the prostitute.
A few days later, Arturo goes to a bar called the Columbia Buffet and becomes infatuated with the waitress, a young Hispanic woman whom he later learns is named Camilla Lopez. Although he is attracted to her, Arturo expresses his interest in Camilla by taunting her, especially about her Mexican heritage; she teases and sneers at him in return.
Camilla and Arturo go to the beach together one night after she gets off work. When Arturo does not have sex with her, Camilla is offended, and begins to ignore him. Arturo tries to send her telegrams professing his love for her, but she rips them up. When a lonely, older woman named Vera Rivken shows up at his hotel room and demands that he love her, Arturo thinks that Vera may be his only chance to gain the experience and confidence that he needs to pursue Camilla. He goes to see Vera at her home in Long Beach, and they sleep together. Afterwards, however, Arturo is filled with guilt. When an earthquake strikes Long Beach, he feels as if he has brought the wrath of God down upon the earth. He goes back to Los Angeles and distracts from his guilt by writing a story about Vera, which turns into his first novel.
Arturo begins to pursue Camilla again, but it soon becomes evident that she is in love with Sammy, the bartender at the Columbia Buffet. One night, she goes to Arturo’s room and tells him that Sammy is dying from tuberculosis and wants Arturo’s help editing some short stories that he has been working on. Arturo soon realizes that Sammy has no talent as a writer but agrees to help him for Camilla’s sake. A few nights later, Camilla returns to Arturo’s room with a black eye and reveals that Sammy beat her when she tried to visit him at his home in the desert. Arturo and Camilla get drunk and sleep together.
Arturo begins to spend more time with Camilla, but she becomes increasingly unstable and dependent on alcohol after Sammy makes it clear that he wants nothing more to do with her. He also discovers that she has been smoking marijuana. One night, she forces Arturo to take her to visit Sammy in the desert. Sammy agrees to let them stay so he can talk to Arturo about writing, but he treats Camilla cruelly and forces her to do the cooking and laundry. Not long after their visit to Sammy, Camilla has a nervous breakdown and is placed in the state mental hospital. Arturo is not allowed to visit her. Soon after, she is transferred to another institution, where the doctors refuse to give Arturo any news about Camilla’s condition because he is not family.
A few months later, Arturo discovers that Camilla has escaped from the mental institution. After a few weeks, Camilla shows up at Arturo’s room. He realizes that she is in a very fragile emotional state and still relies heavily on marijuana. He decides to take her to Laguna Beach, where he rents a house on the coast for them to live in. While he is back in Los Angeles, closing out his bill for the hotel stay, Camilla runs away and goes back to Sammy’s house in the desert. Arturo goes to Sammy’s house in search of her but learns from Sammy that Camilla wandered out into the desert alone two days before. Arturo tries to look for her but soon realizes that he has little hope of finding her. He takes his personal copy of his first novel and dedicates it to Camilla before throwing it out into the desert, in the direction that she went.