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.


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