A Moment of Clarity: Five Questions for Dan Fante
by Gwil James Thomas
If you’re up to scratch on any decent literature and talented living authors, then of course, I shouldn’t have to introduce Dan Fante. If that name’s still unfamiliar, then, please – I can’t put this any more simply and hope that it’ll ingrain on your mind – Dan Fante: Read his books. I first came across Fante via his father’s work. I had discovered John Fante’s, “Ask The Dust” in my late teens and it changed the way I viewed literature. It was the novel I’d been looking for – not to mention one of the few novels that I’d actually read then. I found myself engrossed with it in a way that I’d got from few other things. Subsequently I started to read everything I could of John Fante’s and by that point had given more than a few sittings to the closely linked author Charles Bukowski.
The first book I read of John Fante’s son Dan, was his book “86’d”. To begin with, the story seemed familiar, even reminiscent of his father or Bukowski’s work, with a struggling Los Angeles author. Then suddenly the entire tone and pace of the story shifted and it fell somewhere between a suicide letter and a cranked up chapter from the novel “The Lost Weekend”. The protagonist Bruno Dante’s life seemed to be a Jekyll and Hyde type scenario, as Dante tried his hardest to live something that resembled a conventional existence while struggling to get to grips with conformity. It only seemed a matter of time before he ended up hitting the bottle, as he embarked on some excessive tour of destruction, from which he’d eventually awaken, having blacked out, trying to sober up to the reality of whatever was around him.
Dan Fante is one of our greatest living authors. I’ve never met him, but I am greatly indebted to him for the help and patience he’s shown me. I can also say that despite being one of greatest authors, he is humble and modest with his talents and subsequent following, a refreshing attribute in the V.I.P. culture of today. The sort of writer I can imagine who would have made his equally talented novelist father, John Fante, proud.
Firstly, I remember reading that you met Bukowski a few times when he’d gone to meet your father. Do you remember much about him as a person; was there anything that struck you about him?
DF: Without booze Hank was a quiet, well-spoken guy. I was never with him while he was boozing so I only know him from that side of his nature. He and my dad got along well and exchanged letters often.
Do you have any plans for Bruno Dante in the foreseeable future? It’d be interesting to read a sober Dante novel.
DF: Another Bruno book is possible, maybe even probable. But it will be a very different Bruno.
I remember reading more than once that you’re dad always believed in helping another writer – although obviously this was before the introduction of the internet. Did you ever feel compelled to write to many other writers or poets out there when you first started experimenting with the written word?
DF: Hubert Selby was my literary God. His novel Last Exit To Brooklyn changed my life and when I found out that he lived in Los Angeles I made it my business to go to his readings and hear him talk. Out of that grew a mutual friendship. Other than Selby the only writer I have written to is Michael Connelly.
Like many things, the written word is still adjusting to a digitalization period. What are your thoughts on writers using social networking sites and blogs? In terms of whether or not it waters down their voice, or can provide exposure to writers that might have been missed by more readers otherwise.
DF: To me blogging is masturbating. Social banter for the purpose of self-promotion is cheesy excess. It reveals a mind motivated simply by vanity.
You’ve come out of the other end of alcoholism to tell the story. I know it’s going back a long time and I doubt you’ll remember if Bruno Dante is anything to go by, but can you remember what your last alcoholic drink was?
DF: Absolutely. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t very pretty. A drunk who cannot remember his last drink is a drunk who will drink again – sooner or later.