By Dan Fante.
Sun Dog Press, Northville, Michigan
paperback, 198 pp., $14.00.
Few books are better than Dan (son-of-John) Fante's tour de force,
Chump Change, which is written in a tough, clean, ballistic
voice, reminiscent of Bukowski, charged like Céline, and
in the same league with both just-mentioned writers. This novel
literally attaches itself to the reader, becoming an extra appendage.
When the end gets near, you start to bum out. It's one of those
books you try to slow down on.
Slowing down on Dan Fante, however,
is like trying to slow down on an amphetamine smoothie, especially
when the narrator is smashing around in a big old stationwagon with
a 460 V8, punching out transvestites, slugging down every bottle
of booze in sight, and taking you along on a raucous suicidal deathwish
that makes you laugh out loud.
The difference between Dan Fante and
Bukowski isn't much in the language department, but in the action
department it's a whole nuther thing. Whereas Bukowski reflects
on things, Dan Fante creates chaos in the world, then recreates
it just as intensely on the page. Meaning that Fante doesn't just
get drunk, he gets drunk and starts trouble - usually with a stuttering
15 year old whore, his dead dad's dying dog, piss-ant clerks who
treat him like a bum, or his wife who won't give him a blowjob so
he sneaks his cum into her mouth when she's zonked out on valium
- if he isn't dropping a reeking dead gopher into her purse to use
as a dildo.
The difference between Dan Fante and
Céline has more to do with volume though. Céline wrote
volumes and volumes of misadventures, Fante has just begun. And
I hope he keeps on going.
Despite a couple awkward analogies,
Fante manages to deliver image after graphic image with hilarious
consistency. Here are some passages that I noted:
"Agnes [had]... black eyes and black
hair and a wonderful ass like the pillow of an angel" (p. 9).
"Lorette was making her way down the
aisle with the food service cart. She was ten or fifteen rows away,
but I could easily make out her firm calf muscles flexing as she
stooped down to fetch food trays and plastic cups and fill them
with diet cokes or club soda. She had an abundant hipline and a
firm-looking puff-butt. The top button on her blouse was still unbuttoned"
"What happened to Jonathan Dante [John
Fante] in Los Angeles is what happens to a man who falls in love
with a beautiful, heartless bitch. Each time you touch her round
hard breasts and press yourself deeply between her legs, rapture
explodes your heart. Possessing her flawlessness fills you with
a drug, a perfect divine bliss. You have a dick that never gets
soft. The paychecks, the kisses fix everything....
"A poor writer growing up in the poverty
of the thirties, finding L.A. blooming, beautiful - an air-brushed
kibbutz paradise - Dante knew he must have her and let his tongue
penetrate her every orifice. At the time it didn't matter too much
that, in the essence of his bones, he knew he was licking the clit
of the spider lady" (pp. 25,26).
"Each judgmental, pissy remark and
criticism about our father made me want to grab handfuls of his
hair out by the roots. Each sound, each resonating shit-filled emission
of his speaking increased my edginess" (p. 33).
And on and on. It's rare that I'd
dogear any book so much, and note so many instances of writing that
are brilliantly crude (yet elegant), and horrifically violent (while
being tender enough to make machomen cry).
In short, keep your eye on Dan Fante.
He kicks literary ass.
Charles Bukowski: Laughing with the Gods,
an interview by Fernanda Pivano.
Sun Dog Press, Northville, Michigan
paperback, 160 pp., $14.95.
Fernanda Pivano, an Italian translator/writer (whose past subjects
include Henry Miller, Hemingway, Kerouac and Ginsberg) came to California
in the 80s to interview Bukowski. The book was originally published
in Italian, but now it's out in America.
Roughly, the book is 3/4 interviews
with Bukowski and 1/4 commentary which can be dismissed. The interview,
however, is the MEAT of the book, and will be of interest to anyone
with at least 4.3 Bukowski books on their shelf. Like the letters
and the tapes, Fernanda's interview gives another angle to view
America's favorite alcoholic from, other than his own embellished
autofiction (present in his poetry as well). So don't buy this book
if you're looking for stories about beating up whores, taking a
big beershit, or getting drunk at the racetrack; buy it if you like
Bukowski and want to know more straight from the horse's mouth,
rather than the ugly mugs of hipster professors trying to bring
Bukowski into the mainstream canon with their academic jargon. Not
that you will read anything totally earth-shattering and new in
this book, but because you might be entertained by the novelty of
this different view. For example:
"BUKOWSKI: The Devil is far more interesting
than Christ." (p. 83)" .... "I'm more in sympathy with the Devil
than I am with the nice guys. He seems a more interesting fellow
to me down there burning in these flames. He lost the battle with
God and he got tossed down there in these flames. Maybe I can help
him out of there and we'll take over, and change things a little"
Or: "I write because it comes out
- and then to get paid for it afterwards? ... writing is like going
to bed with a beautiful woman, making love to her, and when you
get up, somebody hands you some money" (p. 41).
Other subjects in the interview include
the toughest cat in the world, Bukowski's personal writing style,
why he got so hammered all the time, feminism, waiters, nature (or
rather, his aversion to it), and his wife's shoes. What makes the
book interesting though is not really what Bukowski answers - it's
the often annoying, biased bent of the questions, which give the
reader who knows anything about Bukowski a feeling of authority
in relation to the interviewer. Fernanda asks a lot of dumb questions
which show how much she didn't do her research. For instance, she
asks if John Martin is a publisher or author (p. 71), doesn't know
much about John Fante's influence on Bukowski (p. 66), doesn't seem
to be aware that Bukowski (who wrote Factotum) had other
jobs before working at the post office (p. 95), and keeps pushing
the subject of Hemingway - sometimes putting words in Bukowski's
mouth about the debt he owes old Ernest (whose later work "got milky,"
according to Bukowski, "the lines were no longer straight and strong.
They became tame" (p. 65)).
My point is that the questions in
this interview make the reader a participant in this book, because
reactions are provoked. And if you aren't a misanthropic alcoholic
yourself, these reactions will most likely lead to drunken dialogue
with others, in regard to Bukowski.
There are also quite a few instances
in this interview in which Bukowski contradicts himself, outright
lies, and reacts for the sake of reaction - which are amusing when
they occur. Hence, this book brings up more questions than answers,
which is the mark of something that makes you think.
Anyway, it's a good looking book with
a picture of Bukowski and the interviewer on the cover, more photos
inside, and some original illustrations by Bukowski with samples
of writing straight from his typer.
Ultimately, it's difficult to get
a fix on what exactly Laughing with the Gods is trying to
do, but nevertheless, the book is intriguing. There are certain
moments which arise in spontaneous places which give insight to
a life that has fascinated more readers of poetry and prose during
the last century, perhaps, than anybody else's has. And for this
reason, I say buy it - but not if you have less than 4.3 Bukowskis
on your shelf already.