John Fante: The Road to Los Angeles

John Fante originally wrote The Road to Los Angeles in 1933. It was to be his first novel, but it wasn’t published until 1985, by Black Sparrow Press, after his death. Fante was “rediscovered” in the 80s after Bukowski listed him as one of his major influences.

Ask the Dust, The Road to Los Angeles, and several of Fante’s other novels tell the story of Arturo Bandini, Fante’s literary alter-ego. I read Fante’s Ask the Dust, considered his best novel, earlier this fall. I think it shows that The Road was written before Ask the Dust, and not only because it is set before Bandini’s arrival in Los Angeles.

A guy I once talked with highly recommended Fante. We were talking about Bukowski and he said he preferred Fante over Bukowski because of Fante’s “Italian passion.” While I like Fante okay, his writing doesn’t have the same effect on me as Bukowski’s.

Both of Fante’s novels that I’ve read are reminiscent of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, a book that—I admit—I didn’t really get. I found the main character’s personality and his whimsical notions, carried out to the extreme, tiring. Mostly I wanted to smack the main character on the head and to tell him to suck it up and do something about his situation.

While Arturo didn’t beg so much to be slapped in The Road, he did do a lot of absurd adolescent things that made me cringe. During the novel he kills a bunch of ants and one huge tuna, pulls off the legs of a grasshopper, and slaughters a horde of crabs with a BB gun he buys specifically for this purpose and then discards.

I don’t think people would dare write this stuff these days.

* * *

Chapter eighteen. Young Arturo sees a woman in a diner and is drawn to her. She buys a pack of cigarettes without speaking a word and leaves. Arturo begins to follow her.

At the next corner the woman stopped to strike a match against the wall of the bank. Then she lit a cigarette. The smoke hung in the dead air like distorted blue balloons. I sprang to my toes and hurried. When I got to the motionless clouds I lifted myself on tiptoe and drew them down. The smoke from her cigarette! Aha.

I knew where her match had fallen. A few steps more and I picked it up. There it lay, in the palm of my hand. An extraordinary match. No perceptible difference from other matches, yet an extraordinary match. It was half burned, a sweet-smelling pine match and very beautiful like a piece of rare gold. I kissed it.

“Match,” I said. “I love you. Your name is Henrietta. I love your body and soul.”

I put it into my mouth and began to chew it. The carbon tasted of a delicacy, a bitter-sweet pine, brittle and succulent. Delicious, ravishing. The very match she had held in her fingers. Henrietta. The finest match I ever ate, Madam. Let me congratulate you.

—The Road to Los Angeles, pg. 122