Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Full of Life, by John Fante

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

John Fante's 1952 autobiographical novel Full of Life is a minor gem, a slice of Italian-American family life set in 50s America. It's funny, poignant and rings true to life.

Recently chance brought to me a wonderful book by John Fante called The Brotherhood of the Grape (1977). John Fante was an Italian American novelist publishing mainly between the 1930s and 1950s. He was also a huge influence on Charles Bukowski.  Hoping to repeat my happy experience with The Brotherhood of the Grape, I purchased a copy of his 1952 novel Full of Life. (Fante also wrote the screenplay for the 1957 film version.)

Like Fante’s other novels, Full of Life is entirely autobiographical. Written in the first person, the narrator is even named John Fante. The story basically centres around Fante’s pregnant wife, hence the title. John is struggling  to deal with his wife’s condition. Other dramas are thrown in when his mad Italian-American father and mother enter the scene and throw everything haywire. They are both superstitious Italian immigrants with their own totally irrational ideas. Fante paints them as loveable yet impossible. These parental portraits are often very funny, although Fante never ridicules. He rather teases out all the complexities and contradictions that come with close human relationships. In the end the reader gets a neatly drawn picture of life within an Italian American family in 50s America.

This is another perfect little gem of a book. Fante’s scope is small: his literary world only consists of his immigrant parents and 50s suburban life. But the execution is absolutely faultless. He captures the language and situations of the times in a neat, tidy prose that is unpretentious and honest. It’s a mystery that Fante is not better known amongst such American greats as Nathaniel West, Sylvia Plath, John Cheever, J.D Salinger and Richard Yates.

Full of Life, by John Fante. Published by Black Sparrow Press. ISBN: 9780876857182  $19.95