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AT HOME IN AMERICA: JOHN FANTE AND THE IMAGINATIVE AMERICAN SELF Melissa Ryan Alfred University A day and another day and the day before, and the library with the big boys in the shelves, old Dreiser, old Mencken, all the boys down there, and I went to see them, Hya Dreiser, Hya Mencken, Hya, hya: there's a place for me, too, and it begins with B, in the B shelf, Arturo Bandini, make way for Arturo Bandini, his slot for his book, and I sat at the table and just looked at the place where my book would be, right there close to Arnold Bennett; not much that Arnold Bennett, but I'd be there to sort ofbolster up the B's, old Arturo Bandini, one of the boys, until some girl came along, some scent of perfume through the fiction room, some click of high heels to break up the monotony of my fame. Gala day, gala dream! —John Fante, Asi: the Dust After more than half a century of silence from the academy, West Coast writer John Fante has finally begun to draw the critical attention he so richly deserves.1 With a critical foundation in place, we can now begin to ask more complicated questions of his work. Scholarship to date has largely been concerned with Fante's hyphenated ethnicity and how he negotiates an Italian identity in an American context; looking particularly at the Italian inflection of Fante's work, critics seem chiefly to locate him within an Italian-American framework . But some of the most illuminating work on the coming-of-age saga of his alter ego, Arturo Bandini, situates Fante in an American literary tradition.2 As his lifelong friend Carey McWilliams has famously said, Fante "is as American as Huckleberry Finn."3 While Fante is indeed preoccupied with what it means to inherit an Italian identity , his lineage as a writer is deeply American. Not only does he find in H. L. Mencken an icon of mentorship and in his library card a passkey to the foundation of American letters, Fante's debt to the culture he grew up in manifests itself on the page in ways that have not yet been adequately questioned. Fante's italianità is by no means irrelevant ; his marginalized perspective gives us an entry into the deeply naturalized American traditions he writes from. Both inside and outside American culture, Fante both imitates and questions American habits offiguration. Looking at the Bandini series as thoroughly American narratives, then—narratives, that is, of Americanness—allows us 186Melissa Ryan to consider the implications of a distinctively American imagination. Wait Until Spring, Bandini, the chronological opening of the Bandini saga, begins with a homeward journey. Italian immigrant Svevo Bandini is kicking his way through Colorado snow, heading toward his unpaid-for house and dreaming of his Abruzzi boyhood. Likewise, the novel is for Fante a writerly act of going home—of revisiting his Colorado childhood and the origins of the boy who imagined the artist into being. One might expect of this novel, then, a narrative parallel to Svevo's fantasy ofItaly; "home" might be expected to mean a return for Fante to his Italian identity. But the most significant at-homeness in this novel is perhaps neither that centered in Arturo's mother, Maria, nor the conflicted and conflicting homes occupied by his father, Svevo, but the one Arturo experiences at the movies. At once he was under the spell of that celluloid drug. He was positive that his own face bore a striking resemblance to that of Robert Powell, and he was equally sure that the face of Gloria Borden bore an amazing resemblance to his wonderful Rosa: thus he found himselfperfectly at home, laughing uproariously at Robert Powell's witty comments, and shuddering with voluptuous delight whenever Gloria Borden looked passionate. Gradually Robert Powell lost his identity and became Arturo Bandini, and gradually Gloria Borden metamorphosed into Rosa Pinelli. After the big airplane crackup, with Rosa lying on the operating table, and none other than Arturo Bandini performing a precarious operation to save her life, the boy in the front seat broke into a sweat. Poor Rosa!4...


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pp. 185-212
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