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Fante, who died in 1983, is receiving some belated recognition for novels like Ask the Dust and Wait Until Spring, Bandini. His biographer, Stephen Cooper, has unearthed 18 previously uncollected stories that Fante wrote over 27 years, ranging from derivative and self-indulgent juvenilia to intelligent and meaningful tales of the immigrant experience. "Prologue to Ask the Dust" is essentially a precis of the novel, displaying a savage energy and sense of immediacy. This and several other stories bring the Los Angeles of some 60 years ago to life. In the memorable "Mary Osaka, I Love You", Filipino dishwasher Mingo Mateo falls in love with the daughter of his Japanese employer. Mingo's friends are violently opposed to the union, but Mingo and Mary argue that politics and race should not interfere with love. They elope to Las Vegas and marry on December 7, 1941. "Bus Ride" is another, tenser tale of interracial attraction, this time between a Filipino man and a European-American woman. Fante himself was Italian and there are several stories about Italian immigrants. A family in "The Bad Woman" unite to keep a son and brother from making what they believe is a bad marriage. "The Sins of the Mother" tells of a formidable matriarch who is determined that her beautiful daughter not marry a truck driver. Like many of the stories in the volume, this one echoes with understated passion, though the prose is calm and the dialogue polite. The collection is uneven, but weaker pieces are outweighed by those that show Fante's heartbreaking and precise vision in top form.
John Fante's novels and stories reflected his life, and his perennial hero, Arturo Bandini, was a version of himself. Born into an impoverished Italian-American family in 1909, the son of a drunk and a gambler, Fante was a college dropout, a lapsed Catholic, a family man who supported his wife and children largely through a succession of menial jobs. He began publishing stories in 1932, when H. L. Mencken--Fante's mentor and lifelong hero--accepted one of his stories for the American Mercury. Fante's first novel was published in 1938, and his second, plus a short-story collection, in 1940--then nothing else appeared for 12 years, during which he struggled with a Steinbeck-esque epic about oppressed Filipino workers in California. Eventually he abandoned it, and in 1952 FULL OF LIFE was published and made into a highly successful movie, starring Judy Holliday. He worked briefly, and not very successfully, as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Always a heavy drinker, Fante was diabetic, blind, and in generally poor health during his last years. Shortly before his death, however, he finally received some recognition for his work: the writer Charles Bukowski, who had never made a secret of his own deep debt to Fante, mentioned him approvingly in a prominent interview, and Fante's work began to be republished by Bukowski's publisher, Black Sparrow Press. Fante's novels and stories may have been severely underappreciated when they were published, but they are revered after his death as tough, lyrical celebrations of life, written with clarity and candor.