Studiously avoiding making resolutions for a new year, or asking about anyone else’s, I’ve instead spent the past 24 hours with Arturo Bandini – alter ego of writer John Fante – in the streets and boarding houses of 1930s Los Angeles.
Fante’s 1939 novel Ask The Dust is a tribute to human connection, its difficulty and its fleeting nature. The dry poverty of a life lived in a city built on a desert is ever present, the background to Bandini’s writings, wanderings, and attempts at wooing Camilla, his “Mayan princess” (and, at times, his waitress).
Bandini’s desperate LA love affair plays out on the novel’s surface, beneath which lies the sand, ancient and patient and unconquerable, indifferent to the almighty-yet-petty struggles of man.
“The desert was always there, a patient white animal, waiting for men to die, for civilisations to flicker and pass into the darkness…all the evil of the world seemed not evil at all, but inevitable and good and part of that endless struggle to keep the desert down.”
And so Bandini, obsessed by his own struggles with writing and women, makes a resolution. Having scripted a savage criticism of the short stories of a love rival who approached him for writing advice he reconsiders.
“Under the big stars in a shack lay a man like myself, who would probably be swallowed by the desert sooner than I, and in my hand I held an effort of his, an expression of his struggle against the implacable silence…
His fate was the common fate of all, his finish my finish; and here tonight in this city of darkened windows were other millions like him and like me…
I walked back to my room and spent three hours writing the best criticism of his work that I could possibly write.”
This outstretched hand offers a moment of hope in a story that will prove to sorely need it, and a message that self improvement is of little worth compared to an attempt at human connection – which is as good a resolution as any today.