by Dan Fante
Sun Dog Press
April 2008, 198 pages, $14.00
Novelist John Fante has, since his death, attained a level of fame that eluded him in life in part because of the relentless endorsement of fellow Los Angeles author and poet Charles Bukowski. Fante is perhaps best known for Ask The Dust and the remaining autobiographical books in the Arturo Bandini saga (among them The Road To Los Angeles and Wait Until Spring, Bandini). His protagonist is a dreamer and struggling writer trying to navigate southern California in the late 1930s.
Fewer readers are familiar with the works of his son Dan. Dan Fante’s fiction was only available in France for years and was only recently published in the United States via small publishing houses. Dan Fante struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse, drove a cab, and seemed overshadowed by his father.
The younger Fante shares with his father an enthusiasm for confessional first-person narratives. I recently read Chump Change, the first of several novels featuring narrator Bruno Dante. The novel is, in part, a book-length eulogy to his father. Fresh from a New York sanitarium, Bruno returns home to Los Angeles to be with his family as his once-famous father dies. Dan Fante’s self-indulgent alter-ego Bruno Dante is the anti-Bandini. He is hopelessly self-destructive. Whereas Bandini was consumed with his fate as an author, Bruno Dante seems uncertain of his writing prowess and often claims he doesn’t want to write at all. Bruno Dante has a gift for staccato phrases and quick asides. He’s also not very likeable.
Dan Fante was, it would appear, more influenced by Bukowski than his father. Much like Henry Chianski in Buk’s Factotum, Bruno does his best to alienate everyone around him. During the course of his father’s convalescence and eventual passing, he gets drunk, attacks a transvestite in a hospital, holes up in a cheap hotel with a stuttering prostitute, and abducts the family dog. He takes a job working for a video dating service with disastrous results. While he mourns his father’s death in private he isn’t emotionally available to his family. The entire time we spend with Bruno is taxing — he’s the kind of person you would want to shake loose in real life. Whereas Arturo Bandini seemed driven by his anger and desire for greatness, Bruno seems determined to march to the bottom.
What father and son also share is a preoccupation with Los Angeles. Both men write about the haunting effects Los Angeles can have on author. Arturo Bandini and Bruno Dante seem mesmerized by Los Angeles as if the city herself were an elusive lover. It’s obvious from the fictional works of both Fantes that the most well-meaning scribe can be easily seduced and crushed by the Hollywood dream factory.
Dan Fante’s very real admiration for his father’s gifts is also evident throughout Chump Change. One particular section of the book in which the protagonist finds a rare old copy of his father’s book (obviously Ask The Dust) is revealing and, alone, worth the cover price.
Dan Fante’s other Brunto Dante works — among them Mooch and Spitting From Tall Buildings — are set to be reissued by Harper Perennial in December 2009. Let’s hope reissues earn this worthy author a larger audience and recognition as an equal talent to his famous forebear.