RARA-AVIS: Dan Fante, _Chump Change_

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 04 Jun 2004

Has anyone else come across a novel by the son of John Fante, Dan, who was an interesting writer in the 30s-50s. His first novel was WAIT UNTIL SPRING, rather a classic of socially-conscious realism about a young Italian boy and his family in the Depression, in a far western state. Dan's book, CHUMP CHANGE, is about a man with alcohol and unmanageable-anger problems, set in LA where his father, a novelist turned screenwriter, is dying. It definiytely qualifies as hard-boiled, and if Noir means being able to see the protagonist as both pathetic and predatory, than it's that too.

The narrator is a failed poet, a self-hater with no control over his life, who steals his brother's car and with his dad's pet bulldog, makes a kind of road trip across the city, meeting a 14-year old prostitute with a genius IQ, having a hate contest with a Mexican clerek in a convenience store, and penetrating the fortresses of suburbia where the bulldog has a go with a Beverley Hills retriever. He finally gets a salesman's job with a bizarre dating service. It's funny, but all of the humor is brutal and involves pain inflicted on the innocent. The narrator's repulsiveness is clearer and more pervasive than in other road novels. The head of the scam-new age dating service, although full of lies and platitudes, tells the narrator so much that is true about himself that the reader is forced into a complex view of people's capabilities. The French were the first to publish and appreciate it.

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