Sunday, 8 November 2009
86'd by DAN FANTE
Like most of John Fante’s current readers I discovered him via Charles Bukowski. Buk claimed him as his God, and that’s enough endorsement for anyone. Books like Ask The Dust and The Road To Los Angeles made aspiring writer Arturo Bandini an unforgettable creation: a self-absorbed romantic dreamer thoroughly convinced of his own genius.
Back in 2002 I saw Fante’s son, Dan, give a talk. He spoke about his father, Bukowski, and his own writing. I wasn’t much interested in his own writing until he read the opening pages from Mooch and was converted on the spot. It felt like the passing of the baton. We shared a few words and he wrote in my copy of Mooch “For Mark, I hope you like my new book – It drove out many old demons for me. Best, Dan Fante”. Many old demons, I’m sure, but a stack of novels, plays, poems and short stories later, Fante is still wrestling those demons and fending them off the way he knows best - the only way - with the written word.
86’d follows familiar ground as Fante’s alter-ego Bruno Dante woozes through the streets of LA struggling to keep a limo driving job and the booze at bay. Not a great combination. No sooner he climbs aboard one side of the wagon, than he spectacularly stumbles off the other. But through all his failures, blackouts, mental girlfriends, AA meetings and dumb moves, you’ve got to admire his pig headedness and dogged spirit even through the skuzziest of lows. “My life wasn’t a total shit sandwich”, he says. And it is dead pan lines like that, that make reading Fante such a treat. Also, no one throws abuse with such casual ease. As the pages get darker, and the voices in his head get louder, his fuse gets shorter. From shooting vitriolic insults from the hip, to indignant rage, to psychotic fury, the angrier he becomes the more incisive and funnier the writing.
Much of the story and characters are predictable but that’s hardly the point. 86’d contains a couple of Fante’s most memorable passages, which I won’t spoil here, and overall this may well be his best novel.
86’d by Dan Fante is published by Harper Perennial, priced $13.99.