Discoveries: Dan Fante

By Susan Salter ReynoldsSeptember 3, 2011

Fante: A Memoir by Dan Fante

“I HAVE LEAD AN INTENSE LIFE,” Dan Fante writes in his author’s note. “For the sake of brevity I have not included every marriage, girlfriend, arrest, job, and beating. Just the more interesting ones.” The wonderful thing about this awful story is this: Dan Fante isn’t looking for closure or healing or forgiveness. He isn’t blaming his father for his “intense” life.

Writer and screenwriter John Fante, in his son’s memory, was a schmuck; a violent schmuck who did irreparable damage to his wife and children. Drinking, gambling, domestic violence — this is the kind of memoir you want to approach carefully if you truly love John Fante’s writing. Like his father, Dan Fante captures the thrilling beauty of Los Angeles, then and now. He quotes a passage from his father’s 1939 book, Ask the Dust:

Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.

But Dan Fante’s life leaves little room for beauty. One arrest after another propelled him to New York City, where he drove a taxi for twelve years and got involved with some truly shady, dangerous characters. Passages like this one pepper the book:

When I woke up I found blood covering my bedsheets and a steak knife on the floor. I had stabbed myself in the stomach in a blackout. The gash wasn’t as deep as it was long. After washing the wound I put superglue on it to close it, along with some paper towels and duct tape.

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) That fine old poem, “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin, comes to mind:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.



LARB Contributor

Susan Salter Reynolds is a book critic and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Vermont. She has three children: Sam, Ellie, and Mia.


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