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Monday, May 7, 2012

"West of Rome", the dog of John Fante

West of Rome- John Fante

I know that I will end reading everything published by John Fante and his son Dan. It's just a matter of time. So here's another one. John Fante's "West of Rome" is composed of two novellas, "My Dog Stupid" and "The Orgy". Both are excellent pieces of Fante's prodigious, straightforward, stormy prose, but they don't fit together. The book was a posthumous release, so I guess the idea, from an editorial point of view, was offering something longer (and then more expensive) than just one short book with less than 150 pages. What a sad decision from a literary perspective.  

Because "My Dog Stupid", the first and longer story is a wonderful piece of literature. Urgent, passionate and cathartic as his best novels, but adding an humorous and heart-warming edge that is refreshing and compelling. It is not that age mellowed Fante, the bitterness and drama-fated is there, but the older writer is capable of laughing about himself.

Make no mistake, reading this tale of Fante's new alter-ego Henry Molise battling against his children and sons in laws, the neighbourhood and their big dogs, Hollywood parasites and growing old while he dreams to escape to Rome is like reading another chapter of Arturo Bandini's story. The frustration and anger is intact, but our weary and tired anti-hero is also wiser, ready to look life in the eye, from time to time, and laugh about it. With the help of Stupid, his very peculiar and amusing dog, that is. What an excellent novella. 

With "My Dog Stupid" rating so high, "The Orgy" is quite a let-down by comparison. It is just a short tale that grabs you like a hurricane with a terrific start "His name was Frank Gagliano, and he did not believe in God. He was that most singular...", but never delivers. Only the immediacy of Fante's prose and the inevitable sense of danger along its pages saves it from being a conventional story about the lost of innocence of a kid. 

Anyway, "West of Rome" is a must read thanks to its first novella, where you will find all what makes reading John Fante essential: an uncontrollable passion channelled through words, a unique voice forged by toughness and a hunger for living that is bigger than life itself. Meet the dog of John Fante, you won't regret it. 

SCORE: 7/10

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