11 November 2011

Imprint Friday: Fante: A Memoir by Dan Fante

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

On Tuesday, I gave you hint of what to expect from Dan Fante's memoir Fante. If you read the teaser quote I shared there, then you already know that Dan didn't grow up basking in the easy life as the son of Hollywood screenwriter and novelist. Dan traces his family's love of drink and fisticuffs from eighteenth-century Italy to twenty-first-century California.

Here's the summary:

No two lives could have been more different, yet similar in a few essential ways than John and Dan Fante′s. As father and son, John and Dan Fante were prone to fights, resentment and extended periods of silence. As men, they were damaged by alcoholism. As writers, they were compelled by anger, rage and unstoppable passion.

In Fante, Dan Fante traces his family′s history from the hillsides of Italy to the immigrant neighborhoods of Colorado to Los Angeles. There, John Fante struggles to gain the literary recognition he so badly craves, and despite the publication of his best known work, Ask the Dust, he turns to the steady paycheck of Hollywood, working as a screenwriter to support his family. We follow Dan through a troubled childhood to his discovery of life′s vices through work as a carnival barker and later as he hitchhikes to New York City, where he drives a taxi for twelve years. While John Fante′s rage over his perceived failures as a writer and his struggle with debilitating diabetes make him more and more miserable, Dan struggles with alcoholic blackouts, suicidal thoughts and what he deems a broken mind.

John was a writer whose literary contributions were not recognised until the end of his life. Dan was an alcoholic saved by writing, who at the age of 45 picked up his father′s old typewriter in order to ease the madness in his mind. Fante is the story of the evolution of a relationship between father and son who eventually found their way back to loving each other. In straightforward unapologetic prose, Dan Fante lays bare his family′s story from his point of view, with the rage and passion of a writer, which he feels was his true inheritance and his father′s greatest gift.
Yes, that's a long summary, and yes, it tells you the basics of the Fante family story. What it doesn't tell you is how complicated, sad, and difficult life can be when you fail "to dodge the family bullets of booze, gambling, and depression." From his first drunk at age four until his last drunk in early middle age, Dan fought the external demons of his father and older brother and the internal demons of self-loathing, anger, fear, and suicide.

Although this is not what I would call an inspirational memoir, the fact that Dan has survived to publish his own novels and poetry and write the story of his life is surprisingly moving. I say surprising because I didn't quite realize how much I cared about Dan's journey to sobriety and inner peace until the last few pages. My tears were of relief, of admiration, of hope, and of thankfulness for someone I've never met and a person who spent most of his life being someone I'm not sure I would have wanted to know. Real life is a tricky thing, and Dan's has been trickier than most.

In addition to his own story, Dan introduces us to the turbulent life of his father, John, and some of the many famous authors with whom John drank and gambled. Dan reveals the darker sides of the likes of William Saroyan, Darryl Zanuck, and William Faulkner, but not in tabloid fashion. All such tales are a means to help us see the reality of life with the Fante men.

Ultimately, Dan Fante's memoir is not so much about drinking, gambling, and fighting but a story of how love and forgiveness can help repair relationships and families, even "after a rocky thirty-year start." And, as the summary mentions, how writing can save lives.
The reason I write is not to change you but to let you know that you can change. I write about living and dying and falling love and throwing it all away--then surviving it. I write about madness and death. I write for the survival of my heart. I am swallowed by, and in love with, the miracle of the human condition. My heroes are real people struggling to find their place on a planet. A planet where fitting in has become a disease as powerful as cancer. (pp. 380-381)
Here are two other opinions (click the links to read the full reviews):
  • Publishers Weekly: "[Fante's] anecdotal, spare narrative is full of fine, pointed writing and searing memories."
  • The Los Angeles Times: "The book is frank and funny. Dan does not lionize or demonize his father, nor does he indulge in the self-pitying or self-gratifying aspects of memoir. It's an achievement in tone and delightful to read."
For some insight into Dan Fante, don't miss his playlist on Largehearted Boy's blog, you may be surprised by some the choices. For more on Dan's other work, visit his website. The P.S. section of the Harper Perennial edition of Fante: A Memoir includes a couple of John Fante's letters and some of Dan Fante's poems.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Fante at an Indie
Fante at Powell's
Fante at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062027092


bermudaonion 11/11/11, 8:55 AM  

His first drunk at age 4?! All I can say is, wow, what a family! I've got to read this book!

Daryl 11/11/11, 9:05 AM  

I think it sounds like a good read ..

Barbara 11/11/11, 10:00 AM  

It always amazes me how many writers are, or have been, drunks. This man's struggles sound like a great memoir, especially since he survived and overcame the alcoholism.

Zibilee 11/11/11, 10:10 AM  

Though this does sound like an incredibly sad book, it also sounds like this is the kind of book where the inspiration of the final outcome just warms the heart and impresses the reader. I need to read this one when I can. I love memoirs and have discovered that some of the best ones are, at times, painful. Very eloquent and thoughtful review today. Thanks!

Julie P. 11/11/11, 3:37 PM  

Sounds fascinating! I don't know why I'm drawn to books about dysfunctional families.

Vasilly 11/11/11, 8:23 PM  

That last excerpt is so powerful! I can't wait to read this.

softdrink 11/12/11, 4:59 PM  

He was 4??!! I don't think I even want to know...

Michelle 11/23/11, 2:31 PM  

This sounds like a very riveting read. A bit too sad for this emotional girl but amazing regardless.

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