Fante’s alter ego comes to crossroads in ‘86’d’

Dan Fante?s novel ?86?d? features his largely autobiographical character?a hard living, scarred-hearted Bruno Dante? who appears in most of his work. Fante will appear at Diesel, A Bookstore on Sunday. Photo by Nicolas Guerbe

Dan Fante’s newest novel is the fourth in a series featuring alcoholic Bruno Dante, a largely autobiographical character.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Literary sons follow literary fathers rarely with much success. However, the late John Fante (profiled in The Malibu Times last June) managed to pass along his peculiar American voice that spoke so brutally and tenderly of blue-collar life in the 20th century to son Dan Fante, who will be reading from his latest novel, “86’d,” at Diesel, A Bookstore on Sunday.

The elder Fante had also passed on his legacy of drinking, a disease that Fante and his siblings did not entirely escape and which features largely in his autobiographical character, a hard living, scarred-hearted Bruno Dante, who appears in most of his work, including “86’d.”

Fante, now 65, started publishing relatively later in life, at 42 years old, after he stopped drinking.

“Getting sober allowed me to gather my thoughts and write,” Fante said. “Dad felt that no writer worth his salt could write as well when he was drinking. Even Bukowski [whose characters are usually drunks] was just a sipper when he was writing. When you’re tanked, you just can’t write.”

Despite that assessment, Fante remembers the father of his childhood as an alcoholic who only quit drinking after he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Fante’s novels -“Chump Change,” “Mooch” and “Spitting Off Tall Buildings”-all follow Bruno Dante’s travails, culminating in “86’d,” when Dante hits a crossroads.

“The term ‘86’d’ means something thrown out, with no possibility of a comeback,” Fante said. “In this story, Dante is part-owner of a limousine company in L.A. and hates driving celebrities around. He gets a DUI and loses his driving privileges, forcing him to make a choice between drinking and staying sober.”

Fante lost a brother to the disease 12 years ago, spurring him to tattoo the date of that death on his arm. His own struggles with drinking took him to New York City as a young man, where he initially tried his hand at writing drama. He ended up working in a variety of “crummy” jobs, including taxi driver, window washer, private investigator, hotel night manager, dating service counselor, parking attendant, chauffeur and mailroom clerk.

Fifteen years after arriving in New York he wrote his first novel, but Fante published a collection of short stories and poetry as well.

“I change genres to keep fresh,” he said.

“The only thing I won’t do is screenwriting,” Fante said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “Dad’s experience made me not want to go there.”

The elder Fante was the son of an Italian immigrant whose earlier works, “Wait Until Spring, Bandini” and “Ask the Dust,” were received with much critical acclaim but little commercial success. Because he had a family to support (living in Malibu), Fante elected to toil in the thankless screenwriting offices of the studios. It was a compromise, but one that had him rubbing shoulders with literary giants of the time like William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

John Fante finally made it to bestseller lists, posthumously, after Robert Towne made “Ask the Dust” into a movie in 2006, starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek.

Dan Fante’s sister Victoria Fante Cohen (who still lives in Malibu) assesses her brother’s work as being very “incisive.”

“Both Dan and my dad wrote from the heart,” Cohen said. “They took different paths in life, but they brought much of their life experiences into their writing in different ways. Dan had a tough time as a young man, but he has really evolved and grown. I so respect that Dan has worked so hard to perfect his craft and I know dad would be very proud of him.”

The elder Fante died before he got to see much of his son’s literary success. The younger Fante said his father had read some of his poetry and encouraged him to continue writing.

“When my mother passed a few years ago, we came across [a lot] of my dad’s old letters to us,” his sister said. “One was a letter from dad to Dan, saying that he should really pursue a career, his writing was so good. I know that means a lot to Dan.”

Although “86’d” has his alter ego confronting a major life change, Fante said there might still be another book or two in the works about Bruno Dante in the future. Fante also just completed a memoir about his father, due out this year. On top of the republication of three of his earlier works by Harper Collins and Harper Perennial’s release of “86’d,” he is poised for a great deal of literary attention this year.

However, Fante is darkly optimistic.

“Really, a writer only has so many good books in him,” he said. “You see how a writer’s work devolves over time. We’ll see.”

Dan Fante will discuss and sign copies of his novel “86’d” at Diesel, A Bookstore on Sunday, Jan. 10, at 3 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 310.456.9961.