Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante, by Stephen Cooper

"In the summer of 1960, at the age of fifty-one, John Fante flew from Los Angeles to Rome..."
Stephen Cooper discovered "Ask the Dust" when he was 25 and was profoundly affected. A quarter century later, he lays some thorny roses at the grave of John Fante with a clear eyed look at the man who's bifurcated personality produced some of the most raw and beautiful prose of the 20th century. Cooper has studied his subject exaustively and with the assistance of Fante's widow Joyce, he gives us our first look at a life and a talent that spun away from its early, hungry promise to the deadly distractions of Hollywood, the links and the drinks. Fante's life, in many ways, is full of more rugged pathos and sour beauty than that of the Bandini alter ego.
Stephen Cooper has done a terrific job as the first biographer of John Fante of uncovering Fante's life. His biography makes the reader want to turn back to the writer's books.

With elegant prose and painstaking detail, Cooper reveals a tortured man who once ended a letter with this telling statement: "Writing is a great joy, but the profession of writing is horrible." Beginning with Fante's family history--immigration, menial labor, heavy drinking, and financial instability--and ending with a final 17-month hospitalization, the roller coaster that was his life is both fascinating and exhausting. Even while his screenplay Full of Life achieved critical accolades, Fante referred to himself as "that Hollywood whore, that stinking sell-out artist," and with every increase in his paycheck he seemed to fall further into bitterness.

Throughout the pages that link Fante's professional and personal lives, we're shown a proud grandpa, an unrepentant gambler and heavy-drinking diabetic, and above all, a tremendously talented writer who was always his own worst critic. Would he appreciate being rescued from obscurity? Hard to say: as he wrote to his son in the early '60s, "Success is too vague a challenge. Maybe failure is even better; certainly it is more beautiful."