Ask the Dust is a virtuoso performance by an influential master of the twentieth-century American novel. It is the story of Arturo Bandini, a young writer in 1930s Los Angeles who falls hard for the elusive, mocking, unstable Camilla Lopez, a Mexican waitress. Struggling to survive, he perseveres until, at last, his first novel is published. But the bright light of success is extinguished when Camilla has a nervous breakdown and disappears . . . and Bandini forever rejects the writer's life he fought so hard to attain.
Ask the Dust sold only a few copies when first published, partly because its publisher, Stackpole, was involved in expensive litigation that year and could not afford to give the book a proper advertising budget. But Ask the Dust was the Fante book "around which a cult has formed," as Warga explained. And Pleasants noted that "Carey McWilliams, Charles Bukowski and [Robert] Towne think it one of the greatest novels published in America." The book's cult popularity led in 1980 to its reprinting by Black Sparrow Press, an event which finally brought it to the attention of a much larger audience. Fante was happy with the acclaim his book belatedly received. "What pleases me most," he told Warga, "is to be hearing from so many people and to know the damn thing has stood up to the test of time."