Beginning in the name of the father

il Centro
Cultura & Società
16 september 1999

A life on the edge between alcohol and poetry
Dan pays homage to John's writing in "Chump Change"
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

book cover To speak about their own family, though with some author's license, is a Fante trademark. Thus after John Fante's wonderful pages where there is often mention of his father (an Abruzzese from Torricella Peligna), brothers and children (let us only mention the irresistible "My dog stupid", in the collection "West of Rome", published inItalian by Fazi), now the first work by Dan Fante, John's son, arrives in the bookstores.

Dan, who is a playwright and - as we read in the back of the cover - is devoted to helping persons in jail, published in Italy "Angeli a pezzi" (Marcos y Marcos, 212 pages, 23,000 lire, "Chump Change" in the original English version). It is a fine, strong book, using explicit sometimes too crude language strongly reminiscent of the other (belatedly) famous Fante. Dan recounts a crucial moment in his own life, and in the life of everyone: his father's death. The mention of his father is therefore necessary. But when we read "Chump Change", the agony of his father (who died in 1983, blind and without his legs, surgically amputated in consequence of a terminal form of diabetes) is superimposed on the agony of Rocco, the father's bull-terrier (the dog also is quite popular with Fante's aficionados) and to the difficult, slow, back and forth path of getting rid of the alcohol demon by the main character. If Fante senior used to hide (so to say) his family's surname with Molise (who knows why not Abruzzo) or Bandini, Dan Fante becomes Bruno Dante while his father's name stays almost unchanged: Jonathan.

What strikes us most is his excellent writing quality and extraordinary skill at keeping the reader glued to the pages. A quality which is undoubtedly permanently impressed in the family DNA. The story begins in an undefined December when Bruno Dante, just dismissed from the "alcoholics and mentally disturbed" department of San Giuseppe di Cupertino hospital, takes a plane to Los Angeles to be at his father's deathbed. So he is on a journey (a common theme in so much American literature) through the States which is for the main character only the beginning of a much more difficult journey: to the insides of his own memories, his feelings, and the follies caused by his alcohol abuse. "We put our baggage into the Ford and drove north to Malibou", writes Dan Fante, "I learned from Fab that Dad's conditions were unchanged. The kidneys were not funtioning any more, and the doctors said he would pass away in one day or two. (...) I remembered the pictures of what my father's home wa slike thirty years ago. A large, Y-shaped house, like a ranch, isolated on a windy cliff, eight miles away from Malibou Colony".

Those who read Fante's works (starting right from "Il mio cane stupido", a story from which a film is to be made with John Turturro and Peter Falk - the former as director, the latter in the main role) will find themselves almost at home. They will recognize the cozy, Y-shaped villa in Malibu, John Fante's dogs, the divided family, the obsession with writing, the hated but very well paid scriptwriting Hollywood job. Those who do not know Fante senior can nonetheless enjoy this fine book: Bruno Dante's fights with Jack (whisky), with a very young prostitute who accompanies him for a number of pages in his highly chaotic life, with his attempt to abandon his alcohol slavery, with his love-hate for the father.

English text edited by Albert Porreca