scarecrow editorial

Monday, October 31, 2005


5: Chump Change

Dan Fante had quite a tempestuous relationship with his father, the esteemed author, John Fante - but then again most people who crossed John Fante did. How do you follow in the footsteps of a great writer when he‘s also, to varying degrees, your custodian? Most teenagers who are stifled by their own father’s reputation often run away once they reach adulthood to seek a place in the world of their own making. Often they find a nice, comfortable warm corner and curl up in it to be bothered by no one. Here they rot. Dan Fante on the other hand ran screaming into the very direction his father never wanted him to go. But he did, and there he steadfastly remained.

Dan Fante’s fiction, although still not as well-received as his father's oeuvre, is quickly burgeoning into a considerable work of brutal, white-knuckle, full-punch realism. This is a writer who never, under any circumstance, holds back.

We all know that John Fante was Charles Bukowski’s personal God [I mean, who can forget Bukowski contacting his publisher Black Sparrow Press after discovering John Fante was out of print and had been for numerous years to demand that they republish him immediately or else he would never submit to them again], we all love and cherish his wonderful creation Arturo Bandini - but what we don’t know is just how mouth-wateringly talented his son Dan Fante is.

Dan Fante's first novel Chump Change caused quite a stir when it finally appeared in America [it was first published in France - which is a tremendous start by anyone’s standards]. Chump Change deals with the kind of modern realism that when first encountered sticks in the throat like a fishbone. Most readers, what few there were, were scared away by his sadistic candour - it was an America most didn’t want to read about, let alone admit to.

Let’s just say that Dan Fante has probably seen it all before, from bouts of disgustingly depraved alcoholism, manic depression, the mind-numbing predictability of working in a shit job for useless amounts of money, resigning oneself to the life of a factotum, divorce, embarrassing suicide attempts, selling his ugly body - that sort of thing. It’s small change for a man like Dan Fante. Like Charles Bukowski, Dan Fante’s prose is packed with no-holds-barred honesty; an unhinged honesty that most readers find quite unsettling.

But, this begs the question, when did a book last unsettle you? And I’m not talking about genre titles; I’m talking about a slim, unpretentious little book of prosaic realism. Think back. I’m talking about a put-the-book-down-for-a-moment-walk-around-the-room unsettled? Well? It doesn’t happen that often does it? With Dan Fante, I can assure you it does, and it more-or-less happens every five pages or so. It is realist writing as it should be: terse, direct, brutally honest, scathing and desperately sad; yet containing somewhere deep within a hidden beauty, a secret, a literary dynamo that drives the book along, a force so unremittingly staggering in its execution it is a wonder why his books have not yet become a world-wide literary pandemic so virulent are they in cause. Only time will tell on that one.

Writing that one reader loves and the other hates has got to be the most electrifying there is. You know the kind I’m talking about. If you want to be a great writer like Dan Fante [and there’s no question about his merit] I would suggest you ignore literary trends and just be as honest in your prose as you possibly can without worrying who you offend, or who may turn up their soured nose at your labours - eventually it will send you down dark corridors of creativity you thought could never exist. And by that time there’s no turning back.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

For a recent Dan Fante interview at please click HERE.

Short Bibliography:

1. Chump Change, 1999.

2. Mooch, 2001.

3. Spitting Off Tall Buildings, 2001.

4. A Gin Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburettor V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles, 2001.

5. Corksucker: Cab Driver Stories from the L.A. Streets, 2005.

Monday, October 17, 2005


4: De Novo

What should a current student of British post ‘50s literature be confronted with today? How should s/he be provoked? What defines a work of British Literature? What makes any British writer academically plausible? And which British writers of fiction classify an age? A Literary Style? A movement? A shift in Literary perspective? Which works of British Literary fiction can force inspiring debate? It’s the eternal question folks! In a current epoch where more novels are being published each year than at any other moment in history how do we weed out the good from the bad?

The novelist Ellis Sharp recently set his readers the task of devising their own alternative Top 10 British writers of fiction since 1950, having lately observed the tired state of the average university campus’ reading list Ellis, rather provocatively as per usual, produced his own list to help kick start this debate. And a mighty fine list it is too. [See here for his Top 10 Literary Criticism titles].

So, and in following Ellis Sharp’s instruction, we [here at scarecrow] have produced our very own alternative list, and after careful deliberation feel we have produced an unbiased Top 10 that showcases a broad spectrum of literary styles, socio-political awareness, wit and accomplishment fit for any university reading list. These books aren’t necessarily given to you in any order of preference [well, except, maybe, Ann Quin] and aren’t our favourite novels of all time - the list isn’t devised in such a way. Vanity projects are useless. The list is formed to encourage debate, to challenge and open the eyes of an eager student willing to read away from a staid, old and tired Literary Canon. See what you think below - do you agree? Some of you may recoil in horror, some of you may whoop great paroxysms of joy. Some of you may have seen it all before. It’s, as they say, over to you:

1: Ann Quin - Berg.

2: J. G. Ballard - High Rise.

3: Irvine Welsh - Trainspotting.

4: Jeanette Winterson - Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

5: Iris Murdoch - The Sea, The Sea.

6: Alexander Trocchi - Young Adam.

7: Kazuo Ishiguro - The Remains Of The Day.

8: B.S. Johnson - Christie Marly’s Own Double-Entry.

9: Hanif Kureshi - The Buddha Of Suburbia.

10: John Wyndham- The Chrysalids.

So there you go. That’s our list. We hope it makes some sense to you - and yes, it’s not as “Cultish” as some may have first presumed. But hey, it’s not always about being cool. Many, many, many books/titles were considered [and we may even publish an alternative list to this alternative - how far can these things go on?], but the 10 titles above, we feel, fully illustrate the complexities and challenging differentiations within the British form. Some have had bigger impacts than others, but all have made their own unique mark within the realms of British/world Literature.

And if we wanted to get really personal then the following three [all way ahead of the pack we hope you'll agree] would have to be included also:

1: Ellis Sharp - Unbelievable Things.

2: Stewart Home - 69 Thing to Do with a Dead Princess.

3: Iain Sinclair - White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

posted by scarecrow  # 9:46 AM

Monday, October 03, 2005


3: Portslade, Portslade, Portslade

Well, some of you may be familiar with the recent BBC adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s wondrous Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky and some of you may not. Some of you may very well have read everything this alluring writer has written and some of you may well be thinking: just who the hell is this Patrick Hamilton you keep prattling on about? Regardless which category you fall into, please, allow us to introduce you to Hove’s finest export.

Patrick Hamilton’s fiction is a joy to read, his most famous work being the unforgettable Hangover Square. This is the London writer, the “Dickensian Modernist” who created a narrative that looks inwards from each conceivable angle, a narrative that brims, that rattles with the vernacular, the sounds, the smells, the voice of post-war London. Has any other writer captured the unique patter, the banter, the varying idiosyncrasies of this city’s maligned, its lost and forgotten, its stamped-upon-daily hordes? We doubt it. And please, spare us any mention of Martin Amis. Fathoms dear comrades, fathoms. We also deny anyone to pick up a book by this man and not be moved by the world within its pages.

Patrick Hamilton’s novels are highly autobiographical; a Marxist philosophically and politically Hamilton’s hatred of all things Fascist can be found throughout his entire oeuvre and especially in Hangover Square. The Midnight Bell [first book in his Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky trilogy] is ostensibly about his real-life infatuation with a London prostitute, Lilly Connelly. The book is a bitter-sweet account of this disastrous encounter and deals with the same recurring themes endemic throughout Hamilton’s fiction: loss, rejection, desperation and lust. Characters who search out cheap frills in a shallow, materialistic world which is constantly weighing them down [Michel Houellebecq is his natural successor in this respect], wading through the thick, smoggy London backstreets in search of something they can never attain: happiness. There is no redemption in Hamilton’s fiction; there are no happy-ever-afters.

His great ear for speech is second to none and his prose is startling in its immediacy because of this. His novels are littered with the written recordings of the hustler, the drunk, the pimp, the con-man, the middle-classes, the upper-classes, the working-class, the under-class, the down-trodden, the forgotten, the lonely, the pub bores, the blatherskites, the never ending tumult, the whole mesmerising, rotting, obfuscating gambit, the be all, the end all, his wonderful London. Never has a British novelist captured the true desperation that exists within the confines of mass populous, that very human longing that pours from the walls in every smoky, back alley boozer the width and breadth of this sprawling metropolis.

It seems that Hamilton still remains that odd square peg who still, somehow, manages to appear aloof and evade most established critical classifications. This, we feel, can only be a good thing, you see, we need the writers who stand out alone, who turn their backs on the current trends, who never follow suit and who, joyously, we, the humble reader, stumble across by chance without the soul-sapping marketing strategies that now surrounds novelists the world over - and writers such as Patrick Hamilton are made all the more magical because of this.

Patrick Hamilton, the “Dickensian Modernist” [a term he would have found laughable as a Marxist, being quite dismissive of Modernism due to its lack of concern with social reality], the Marxist, the alcoholic, the hater of automobiles has left us a comically grotesque fiction, a body of work with its dark foundations firmly embedded within the fabric of social-realism and a must-read for any serious connoisseur of British post-war fiction.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

Short Bibliography:

Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky.
Hangover Square.
Impromptu in Moribundia.
The Slaves of Solitude.
The West Pier.

posted by scarecrow  # 12:07 PM


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