Big Hunger, The
by John Fante (2000)
As I imagine is the case for most works that go purposely unpublished during a writer’s life only to be released posthumously, this collection is best reserved for Fante completists and can probably be ignored by the rest of the masses.
Most of the stories have a distinctly immature feel — not with regards to Fante the man but rather to the time/effort put into the pieces. And that’s understandable; it’s what you would expect from stories he knew would never be published, some of which were springboards for other stories or novels. It just doesn’t make for the best collection.
There are at least a few items that made me — as someone who counts Ask the Dust as one of my top-5 novels of all time — glad I spent the time reading it. The “Prologue to Ask the Dust” is simultaneously gorgeous in style and terrifying for what it would have done to the book if included — thank goodness for the man who convinced Fante to leave it out. It basically summarizes the entire book from Fante’s perspective and would have utterly destroyed the tone if inserted into the classic.
The best stories are “Jakie’s Mother,” with a wonderful ending, “A Bad Woman,” “I am a Writer of Truth,” and “The First Time I saw Paris.” But the very best is probably “The Sins of the Mother,” which somewhat recalls the story of how Fante’s father seduced his mother.
As I said, read it if you love Fante, but a better story collection of his is The Wine of Youth or Dago Red (which are close to the same book). I liked this because I like Fante, but if you read one of those collections you might find that these stories are just more of the same and a little bit boring.
As I felt with The Road to Los Angeles, I don’t necessarily feel the world would be a worse place if this had remained unpublished. At some point it’s disrespectful to the author, right? To publish his deliberately unpublished works? Or maybe it’s just the author’s responsibility to make sure they destroy whatever they don’t want to eventually see the light of day. . .