Wait Until Spring, Bandini
by John Fante (1938)
I was relieved to find this much closer in quality to Ask the Dust, which I love almost as much as my firstborn, than to The Road to Los Angeles, which left no doubt as to why it remained unpublished during Fante’s life (see my reviews here and here).
This one was actually a refreshing change of pace from both of them as it focused more on the Bandinis as a family unit than solely on eldest son Arturo, who would go on to protagonize the later stories. But the growth from Los Angeles to Bandini is as obvious as it is artful. The misanthropy and misogyny is dialed way down, though you still see the trait in Arturo’s father Svevo, and you understand how Arturo (and Fante himself?) could have turned out the way he did with a father like that. The added realism, largely due to the milder character defects, adds a richness and nuance that were mostly absent in Fante’s first book.
Two areas of nuance that Fante handled masterfully here were Arturo’s feelings toward his mother (and by extension all women), and his relationship with Catholicism, which he would go on to struggle with even more epically in Dust. Particularly regarding the former, there are some fascinating passages, especially toward the end, depicting Arturo’s simultaneous love and hatred of his mother. There is clear thought and suffering put into these characters, which you can’t really say for Los Angeles.
Though much better than his first effort, and enjoyably familiar for one who loves both Ask the Dust and the Bandini character in general, it’s still missing that giddy, almost delirious kineticism that Fante’s masterpiece displays. The language is much improved here, and he begins flashing around what I’ve come to think of as almost a signature in his brilliant imagery, but Bandini only flirts with the manic heights that Dust sustains throughout.
This is disappointing in a way, as I read Dust and wanted Fante to be my writing hero, this unknown, underappreciated artist whose brilliance only I and a handful of enlightened others could recognize. After reading his two previous books I’m suspecting that Dust is more lightning in a bottle, the convergence of a perfect set of circumstances — brilliance, frenetic energy, maturing as a writer, truly comprehending the material — that produced a single, staggering work of genius.
I’m going to check out The Wine of Youth to see if the work he published directly after Dust may have retained any of its magic. And you know, I think I’ll be okay if it doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with only producing one of the greatest U.S. books ever. I would still recommend Bandini to any fans of good literature, though I’d also still recommend you read Ask the Dust first.