John Fante, or spending decades on one’s autobiographical obsession

This is a post where I talk about John Fante, writing, getting older and getting better.

Let me explain. Thanks to my friend Diana, I read “The Brotherhood of the Grape“. It is a perfect short novel – punchy, memorable and humorous even in the face of death, with no trace of the slobbery sentimentalism that always lurks whenever one tries to write a father-and-son story (and many do, with great success – it seems like lately one is hardly reading anything else, with “The Kite Runner” on top of the charts and so on). To me, it carried echoes of Philip Roth’s carnality and decay, and the surreal business of building something with rocks in a remote mountain place to pay off one’s gambling debt called to mind one of Paul Auster’s best novels, “The Music of Chance“.

I also read a few more Fante novels and I can’t say I’m a fan: his 1930s novels, featuring alter ego Arturo Bandini, quickly wear thin when the protagonist’s borderline bipolar antics cease to be interesting. “Ask the Dust” I found overrated and irritating; “The Road to Los Angeles“, which the editorial note points out remained unpublished during the author’s lifetime, apparently stayed in a drawer for good reasons; “Wait Until Spring, Bandini“, which Fante, in a new preface written a few weeks before dying in 1983, said contained the seeds of all his future work, is rather overexcited and repetitive.

Fante’s whole fictional work revolves around not-even-disguised autobiography. For decades, the author made a living as a screenwriter. Apparently he did not hold the craft in high regard, but I would submit that it did his writing a whole lot of good. “The Brotherhood of the Grape”, published in 1977, distils the family saga and the young writer’s beginnings in a masterfully deadpan language, and in doing so ends up being (to me, at least) much more moving than his overwrought ramblings of four decades before. If decades from now I am able to write about my own youthful stupidity the way that Fante – in his old age – wrote about his younger self, then I will be grateful for the passing of time.

2 thoughts on “John Fante, or spending decades on one’s autobiographical obsession

  1. Pingback: Stories of mothers and sons: two evil children, an object of too much love, and a boy genius « Live from Planet Paola

  2. I am a great fan of “autobiographical novel” gender, but I completely agreee with you about “Ask the Dust”. Completely dissapointing.
    I wouldn´t read any other book by Fante, but I will follow your recomedantion, and I will try to get “brotherhood of the grape”
    Thanks Paola!

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