Realization and Recognition: The Art and Life of John Fante

Neil Gordon in Boston Review:

John-FanteThe universe of John Fante’s fiction is so immediately moving, so poetically vivid, that it is hard to decide which is the greater quandary: that it went so long unrecognized, or that in the factitious worlds of publishing and Hollywood it is receiving such enormous recognition today. Fante was a writer from the 1930s, only occasionally recognized during his lifetime and swallowed, for long periods, by inactivity and obscurity. And yet today his complete works are in print with sales that any writer would envy: 100,000 copies of his books in America since 1980 and an astounding half-million copies in France. Most of his working life was spent in the subliterary world of Hollywood screenplays, and many of his novels never found a publisher. Yet he has now been accorded the highest commercial accolade: one book filmed and nearly every other one under option or in development, with Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Towne heading the impressive list of Hollywood figures who have invested serious money in his work.

Fante’s highly autobiographical fiction draws us deeply into his life, and that life reveals a struggle familiar to any reader of literary biography: between a profound urge to realize an artistic talent and an equally profound anxiety about recognition in the literary market. All writers struggle with the marketplace and many write about it, from Balzac to Hemingway. But the surprising turns of Fante’s commercial fortunes are rendered especially compelling by the sheer depth of his talent. His disturbing, singular writing stands absolutely alone among American Depression and mid-century writers. He was always the equal, and often the better, of his recognized contemporaries: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, West, Schulberg. With no place in the genres of his day, it is only now that his finest work is being recognized as utterly original, and the precursor to voices of writers like Kerouac and Bukowski and through them, to a vast spectrum of contemporary writers.

More here.