The Road to Los Angeles was published nearly forty years after it was written in 1936. We’re probably not seeing a movement to disinter from unmarked graves unfamiliar books by well known authors. Still, Philip Dick’s mainstream novels have been coming out in recent years. And William Campbell Gault’s Man Alone was published long after he wrote it. I can’t help wondering how many other interesting and well written novels, scorned by publishers in the past, are now wrongly gathering dust in attics and archives. I'm guessing there are quite a few.
The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante. Black Sparrow Press (1985), 164 pp.
Arturo Bandini is eighteen, out of high school, and living with his mother and younger sister in a small apartment near the Port of Los Angeles. The Depression is in full swing, and interesting jobs are hard to find. For Arturo, prone to laziness and petty thievery, they are even more difficult to keep. He’s taken an interest in Nietzsche, in part to impress a pretty librarian, but he never gets closer to the superman ideal than killing crabs with an air rifle. His love life, meanwhile, focuses on dirty pictures from girly magazines. He finally lands a job in a cannery. It’s there that he begins to dream of becoming a proletarian writer.
This book might be considered a prequel to Fante’s best-known work, Ask the Dust. This younger Bandini, however, is not quite the same guy as in the later novel. He’s just as full of himself -- only with less reason. He verbally abuses his mother and sister for their intellectual shortcomings, but his main claim to superiority is a vocabulary of long words which he often misuses. His writing ability is purely imaginary. More important, the younger Bandini, angry and contemptuous, is just not a very nice fellow. Fante nevertheless generates sympathy for his protagonist. The first-person narrator - - Bandini looking back on his youth -- mocks the pretentiousness of his earlier self while showing the vast gulf between his adolescent aspirations and the grim realities of working-class Los Angeles. Fans of Fante or L. A. fiction generally will probably enjoy the novel.