John Fante Criticism - Essay

Iris Barry (review date 29 September 1940)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Barry, Iris. “The Raw Juice of Life.” New York Herald Tribune Books (29 September 1940): 2.

[In the following positive review, Barry praises Fante's portrayal of childhood and family life in Dago Red.]

There was a great deal of pleasure and excitement in meeting the Bandini family when they first introduced themselves in Mr. John Fante's Wait Until Spring, Bandini a couple of years or so ago. They are a vociferous bunch who wring the juice out of life instead of whiting it to come to them in hygienic cartons. Father is a bricklayer, a violent and passionate creature but not in actuality as passionate as Mother who—for all her gentleness and profoundly religious faith—is a tornado when roused. By now we have got to know the whole family intimately. They are in a sense, the antithesis of the Day family but they are just as characteristically American. It is fun to hear more of their doings in this new group of short stories [Dago Red].

The best tale is “One of Us,” which most delicately and movingly describes the funeral of a small child from the point of view of another child about the same age. This boy is fascinated by the fact that the father of his dead comrade does not weep as every other one of the large Italian-American family does with abandon. The effect that his curiosity has on the bereaved father is beautifully indicated.


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Basil Davenport (review date 29 September 1940)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Davenport, Basil. “Toscana Saga.” Saturday Review of Literature 22 (29 September 1940): 18.

[In the following review, Davenport finds the stories in Dago Red to be in the same vein as the subject matter and tone of Fante's novel, Wait until Spring, Bandini.]

John Fante will be remembered for his Wait until Spring, Bandini, a novel about a family of Italian-Americans in Denver, evidently drawn from the author's own childhood experiences. The present volume of short stories [Dago Red] is almost entirely made up of pieces cut from the same bolt. Almost the only exception is the last piece, “Hail Mary,” the reflections and recollections...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Harry Sylvester (review date 18 October 1940)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Sylvester, Harry. “Fiction.” Commonweal 32 (18 October 1940): 533-34.

[In the following unfavorable review, Sylvester derides the stories comprising Dago Red as dull and inconsequential.]

Mr. Fante has been likened to an Italian Saroyan, and the disservice of the comparison is all to Mr. Fante. He began to write at a time when there was a cult of the naïve prevalent in American letters, and while he has never been consciously naïve like Mr. Saroyan, he perhaps used the child's point of view in his stories a bit too much. This is noticeable in most of the early stories. It was a difficult task Mr. Fante set for himself, to use a child's psychology...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Jonathan Kirsch (review date 24 March 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Kirsch, Jonathan. “Paper Weight.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (24 March 1985): 8.

[In the following laudatory assessment, Kirsch deems The Wine of Youth “a heady distillation” of Fante's “marvelous powers of observation, his generous spirit and his enduring talent.”]

“All those weeks, the things I had to say, the things I wanted to write—I could write them now, the feelings in my blood; they would mix with ink and stretch themselves across fields of white paper,” wrote John Fante in “The Dreamer,” a short story about love, redemption and the mysteries of the heart. “I rushed back to my room and sat down before my typewriter, and it flowed like magic.”

The magic that once flowed from Fante's typewriter now suffuses the pages of The Wine of Youth, an anthology of stories from the author's 1940 collection, Dago Red, as well as some of his later stories. Each of his well-told tales captures the little miracles of love, the passion in ordinary lives, the tender longings and lofty ambitions that animate even the most humble of souls. Largely autobiographical—and often set in Southern California in the '30s and '40s, where Fante studied and worked—these stories remind us of the achievements of a little-honored writer whose mastery of the short story is equal to Steinbeck's or Saroyan's.

Fante has been rescued from obscurity by John Martin's Black Sparrow, which published the late author's last book, Dreams From Bunker Hill, and has reissued Fante's earliest novels, Wait Until Spring, Bandini and Ask the Dust. Like other writers of his generation, Fante published short fiction in the American Mercury and other periodicals, then went on to Hollywood as a screenwriter. But Fante's truest literary impulses were directed toward the printed page, as we discover anew in The Wine of Youth, a heady distillation of his marvelous powers of observation, his generous spirit and his enduring talent.

Carol A. Crotta (review date 30 November 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Crotta, Carol A. Review of West of Rome, by John Fante. Los Angeles Times Book Review (30 November 1985): 4.

[In the following review, Crotta offers a mixed assessment of the two novellas comprising West of Rome.]

John Fante's screenplays (Jeanne Eagels, Walk on the Wild Side) may have garnered him more recognition than his short stories and novels, but since Fante's death in 1983, Black Sparrow's reprints and first printings have thankfully kept his vivid and expertly crafted fiction from slipping into obscurity. This latest, a pairing of two never-before-published novellas, should by all rights attract new blood to the growing Fante cult.

The first is the real gem here. In My Dog Stupid, we meet screenwriter/novelist Henry J. Molise: “Reputed to be insane, suffering from ulcers, no longer attends Writers' Guild meetings, regularly observed at the liquor store and the State Department of Employment. Or walking the beach with a large, idiotic and dangerous dog.” What Molise really suffers from is a bad case of Weltschmerz—he dreams of leaving his loyal wife, messed-up, yapping children and his Point Dume home for a pensione and a charming signorina—but he finds perverse comfort in the massive, black—and gay—dog who adopts him. This is a different Fante than fans are used to, still a master of the perfectly captured scene and crystal-clear image (not a wasted word to be found), but lighter, sharper, and so funny in parts you laugh out loud.

The second offering, The Orgy, is more familiar Fante ground: An immigrant bricklayer's son discovers some unsavory truths about his father when they go searching for gold in the hills. The characters, as always, are sensitively and deftly drawn; unfortunately, the motivations are not, and this one pales badly in comparison to West of Rome's fine opener.

Gerald Mangan (review date 20 March 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mangan, Gerald. “Artist of the Fallen World.” Times Literary Supplement (20 March 1987): 303.

[In the following review, Mangan traces Fante's literary development.]

I decided to eat at Jim's Place, because I still had some money. I ordered ham and eggs. While I ate, Jim talked.

He said “You read a lot. Did you ever try writing a book?”

That did it. From then on, I wanted to be a writer.

“I'm writing a book right now”, I said.


(The entire section is 1901 words.)

Richard Collins (essay date summer 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Collins, Richard. “Stealing Home: John Fante and the Moral Dimension of Baseball.” Aethlon 12, no. 1 (summer 1994): 81-94.

[In the following essay, Collins investigates the role of baseball in Fante's novels and short fiction.]

One of John Fante's early claims to fame was being portrayed as the pinball maniac Willie in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life (1939). But long before he became a writer, gravitated to Hollywood, where he met Saroyan, and turned to more sedentary activities like pinball, gambling and golf, John Fante's first love was baseball. Growing up in Colorado, Fante attended Regis College, a Jesuit boarding school, where the...

(The entire section is 5691 words.)

Donald Weber (essay date 1999)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Weber, Donald. “‘Oh God, These Italians!’: Shame and Self-Hatred in the Early Fiction of John Fante.” In John Fante: A Critical Gathering, edited by Stephen Cooper and David Fine, pp. 65-76. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Weber contends that Fante's early fiction “offers a rich testament to how the often disabling powers of shame and self-hatred can somehow inspire the literary imagination.”]

Gay Talese created something of a literary-political stir a few years ago when he asked, on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, “‘Where Are the Italian-American Novelists?’”...

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Leonardo Buonomo (essay date 1999)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Buonomo, Leonardo. “Masculinity and Femininity in John Fante's ‘A Wife for Dino Rossi’.” In John Fante: A Critical Gathering, edited by Stephen Cooper and David Fine, pp. 88-94. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Buonomo asserts that Fante successfully challenges traditional masculine and feminine models in “A Wife for Dino Rossi.”]

John Fante's “A Wife for Dino Rossi” is, on the surface, the story of a misguided and finally unsuccessful attempt at forming a couple, at bringing together two Italian-American singles: the Dino Rossi of the title and Coletta Drigo. Another couple, the one formed by...

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Publisher's Weekly (review date 27 March 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Big Hunger: Stories 1932-1959, by John Fante. Publisher's Weekly 247, no. 13 (27 March 2000): 51.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic finds The Big Hunger to be an uneven collection of Fante's short fiction.]

Fante, who died in 1983, is receiving some belated recognition for novels like Ask the Dust and Wait Until Spring, Bandini. His biographer, Stephen Cooper, has unearthed 18 previously uncollected stories [collected in The Big Hunger] that Fante wrote over 27 years, ranging from derivative and self-indulgent juvenilia to intelligent and meaningful tales of the immigrant experience. “Prologue to...

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Fred Gardaphe (review date 16 April 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Gardaphe, Fred. “A Man of the Ages.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 April 2000): 21-2.

[In the following review, Gardaphe praises Fante's portrayal of the Italian-American experience in his fiction and assesses his literary accomplishments.]

If the Italian immigrant experience has a presence beyond the mythic Mafia of Mario Puzo, it is through the short stories and novels of John Fante. While he has never been a highly recognized American writer, by 1940 when he was 21, Fante had already published two novels, Wait Until Spring, Bandini and Ask the Dust, as well as half of his lifetime production of short stories in national magazines such...

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Richard Collins (essay date 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Collins, Richard. “Fante's Confessional: Stories or Plain Fiction.” In John Fante: A Literary Portrait, pp. 51-72. Toronto: Guernica, 2000.

[In the following essay, Collins delineates the major thematic concerns of the stories comprising Dago Red.]


When you go to Confession you must tell everything.

—Jimmy Toscana in “The Road to Hell”

The individual stories collected in Dago Red (1940) show Fante practicing the basic elements of his craft, testing his voice for its tonal capabilities, and organizing his experience for its unifying...

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Richard Collins (essay date 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Collins, Richard. “The Legacy of John Fante.” In John Fante: A Literary Portrait, pp. 261-73. Toronto: Guernica, 2000.

[In the following essay, Collins addresses the reasons for the recent critical and popular rediscovery of John Fante's work, investigates the influence his work has had on other writers, and places him within the tradition of Italian American writers.]

To feel that you have a destiny is a nuisance.

—John Fante

In 1932 H. L. Mencken published the first story of an unknown writer living in obscurity in Los Angeles named John Fante, the son of a bricklayer from the...

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Jonathan Kirsch (review date 3 March 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Kirsch, Jonathan. “Down and Out in the City of Angels.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (3 March 2002): 2.

[In the following review, Kirsch maintains that The John Fante Reader provides a useful introduction to the works of John Fante.]

John Fante is one of those tragic figures of arts and letters whose best work was coldly and cruelly overlooked in his own lifetime, only to be “discovered” and celebrated long after his death. When Fante died at 74 in 1983, he had earned a bed in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills by reason of his work as a journeyman screenwriter in the old studio system—“the most disgusting job in...

(The entire section is 816 words.)