John Fante is perhaps one of the ultimate cult-writers, his work thanks to books like 'Ask the Dust' and 'Wait Until Spring, Bandini' being published by Rebel Inc Press and Steve Cooper's biography of Fante (Full of Life), has started to find an audience. Myself?- I picked up a lovely free-book by Rebel Inc Press, which had an introduction to 'Ask the Dust' by Charles Bukowski - a cult-writer who tirelessly championed John Fante. This lead to me picking up Rebel Inc's 1998-issue of 'Ask the Dust', and in turn several other works by Fante- 'Wait Until Spring...', 'The Road to Los Angeles', 'Wine of Youth'...and so on-
Now sees more of a Fante-revival, with 'The Brotherhood of the Grape' being published in the U.K. for the first time, alongside the wonderful collection of Arturo Bandini novels now known as 'The Bandini Quartet.' Recently Robert Towne has announced a film-adaptation of 'Ask the Dust' and the BBC's Radio 4 have done features on Fante. He's now finding the audience that sadly he would not in his own lifetime; he easily belongs to a set of American writers of the 20th Century that also include the aforementioned Bukowski, Richard Yates (whose works have similarly been reissued recently), Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Richard Ford, John Kennedy Toole, Richard Brautigan & the non-SF-works of Philip K. Dick.
This novel was one of his last works (Dreams from Bunker Hill being the last- dictated to his wife as Fante had gone blind) and is one I had neither read of or knew much about until its paperback-issue in the U.K. this year. Like many great works of art, I kicked myself for not having read this earlier- like the other works of Fante that I had read, it is utterly brilliant and a masterpiece if you like that kind of term.
'The Brotherhood of the Grape' tells the story of Henry Molise, a middle-aged writer with marital-discord who is dragged back to his estranged Italian-family in a Californian smalltown. We enter a work where the rest of his family resent him, where memories from the past resurface and the conflict with his father Nick comes to the fore. Events then turn on a construction job Henry's father has been offered...and to say more would spoil this brilliant novel.
'The Brotherhood of the Grape' is a book that captures an Italian-American family, that nails the nasty business and histories that are sometimes tagged 'family.' Despite being written by a man in his seventies in California, it has that universal quality of empathy and recognition common to all great works. It's both a breeze and a joy to read - an absolute travesty that Fante was appreciated by so few - it would serve as an ideal introduction to Fante's works. It also has some wonderful black-comedy and humour alongside the sometimes depressing events and relationships - Henry's revenge on his mother-in-law for her abuse of his golf-clubs is hilarious...
So kick back with some Californian red, picture that smokehouse in the hills and enjoy.A twentieth-century classic issued in the twenty-first century; aspiring-writers will weep...I did!
on 24 August 2005
The brotherhood of the grape consists of a group of men gathering at the Angelo Masso winery in San Elmo. There is Angelo himself, Cavallero, Zarlingo, Benedetti, Antrilli, Mascarini and Nicholas. Nicholas is now 76 and he used to work as a contractor and he built many imposing buildings in San Elmo. A passionate man of Italian origin, the head of the family is described by Henry as "a judge, jury and executioner, Jehovah himself". He scorns his sons because, to his bitter disappointment, none of them became a stonemason. And now Nick pesters Henry to join him in an absurd project of building of a smokehouse up in the Sierra mountains...
It is both the funny and sad tale of a son watching his father age, wait, mark time and become increasingly lonelier. Henry is finally the only son who stands by his father's side as his final moment approaches...
The novel is brimming with love, violence, death, religion and also plenty of humour because the author's prose is honest, evocative and intimate.
on 21 May 2004
This later Fante novel introduces a dysfunctional Italian-American family, which is presided over by the head of the family, an old rogue of a bricklayer. The protagonist, Nick Molise, could be seen to be an older version of Fante’s much-loved alter-ego, Arturo Bandini, and there is a long flashback section in which he recounts experiences that are very similar to Bandini’s tribulations in ‘the Road to Los Angeles’.
The writing is less spectacular than the flowing prose of Fante’s earlier novels, and the novel is more mature and understated, but there are parts in which the old Fante magic shines through. The most striking thing about this novel is the way it portrays the complex relationship between the main character and his wine-loving, womanising father, who is now nearing the end of his life. It is touching how he remembers the suffering his family went through at the hands of his father - though his drinking and the way he frittered away his wages on gambling - yet his deep devotion to the old man still shines through. He even agrees to accompany his ageing father on one last building project, a bizarre quest to construct a smokehouse in the woods for one of his father’s friends. This ridiculous, Sisyphean quest forms the backbone of the story.
This is an excellent, well-written and perceptive look at the inexplicable bonds of love that exist in families, and the effect on people of ageing and change. It is also in parts very funny. It also raises many questions, as it suggests that Fante could have become one of the acknowledged greats if he had carried on writing, while at the same time suggesting that, even if he had continued, he might never have managed to come up with an alternative to the same themes and characters that recurred again and again in his work. Unfortunately, we’ll never know which is true.
on 10 January 2013
Fante's Brotherhood of the Grape is billed as his most mature work...because it is. It's a powerful piece of literature about a family and how there's always another chance to make a connection. What it creates in emotion and maturity it somewhat loses in the passion you'd get from a character like Arturo Bandini but you can see how every word is beautiful, carefully hand picked and perfect. There are echoes of 1933 Was A Bad Year and you can see the chapters that influenced Bukowski so greatly. The man was something truly special, the most important American writer since Henry James?
on 8 October 2013
I read The Wine of Youth 20 years ago and such was the power and pull of those short stories that I remembered the author's name, the fact that I enjoyed him, and that I resolved to read more of him. Fante writes economically about simple but powerful themes. I'm not sure that he has much of a female following as he writes, although poetically, about the wretched absurd beings that are men.
on 3 September 2015
I loved this book. I read it whilst in Torricella Peligna who stage a week-long John Fante festival annually. The book in essence is an observation of the relationship between members of a family and is beautifully written and addictive. This is my first Fante - bring on the rest.
on 25 July 2012
I was turned on to this book by Charles Bukowski's proclamation that "Fante was my god". That is recommendation enough for me. I read it in a couple of days, and will look out for his other work, as I've got through all of Bukowski's novels. The story is very simple, the characters well-drawn. His father, though a drunken and violent man, is a sympathetic character. A wonderful portrait of a dysfunctional family coming apart at the seams due to the threat of geriatric divorce. Fante has been added to Bukowski and Steinbeck as one of my favourite writers.
on 29 November 2008
The Usual Fante Fare. Powerful stuff, but much gentler than his earlier work like "Ask the Dust". Some of his earlier novels could be a little annoying; he was a very arrogant, angry young man and this fact comes through from his writing style aswell as his protagonists, always writing a little breathlessly as if the emotion portrayed were moving too fast for him to fully capture and always aggrandising and romanticising literature and the art of writing. This defensive, standoffish edge in his work has largely disappeared by this novel, one he wrote in his 70's.
Lots of mad, dostoevsky-esque, unpredictable characters and plenty of painful ideas dealing particularly with duty, guilt etc. Not quite as poignant and powerful as "ask the dust" but, i think, still representative of Fante on top form.
on 1 September 2009
The Brotherhood of the Grapethis book is first and foremost a easy book to read, no flowery descriptions, just the facts about what is occurring, as with all his books, he puts it straight in front of you. the story is about putting wrongs right? about standing up in the face of belligerence and the backing down and making excuses because sometime the people you love arent that black and white, you just know how they are and you have to deal with them. John Fante is refreshing, funny and sad, well worth a read.
on 18 February 1998
I read this book in a matter of hours and John Fante has quickly become one of my favorites!!!! He is funny, he is crude, he is awesome. It is the story of a disfunctional family coming to terms with their disfunctionality. The father is a drunk. The mother is devoted. The children hate both of them. A great story!