Booze cruisin’ to the bottom

Dan Fante’s new novel, 86’d, is a rip-roaring novel about a forty-two year old alcoholic, pill-popping loser at life on his last legs. The story is humourous, if you like laughing at people who fall down and hurt themselves, the language profane but real, and the characters flawed but human. Fante, son of the late John Fante (author of Ask The Dust), writes in the easy to read “hyper-realist” style that Charles Bukowski, Hubert Selby Jr, and Fante Sr. had a hand in pioneering.

Indeed, Fante wears his influences on his sleeve, making reference to the writing of each at least once over the course of the novel. Much like Fante Sr. used Arturo Bandini and Bukowski used Hank Chinaski, Fante Jr. puts himself into the narrator’s role as Bruno Dante. This tale of anti-hero Bruno Dante, the fourth in a series that includes Chump Change and Mooch, takes place in Los Angeles, where Bruno has recently been 86’d from his shitty call-centre job, almost immediately lucking into a managerial position with Dav-Ko, a chauffeur service, thanks to a fake resume and an ex-boss willing to give the down and outer a second chance. From there, Bruno makes the worst of nearly every situation, fucking up time after time until he hits the end of the line and is forced (partly by court order) to face his demons, or end it, successfully, once and for all.

But inside Bruno’s narrative of alcoholism and depression we find an almost parallel portrait of Hollywood as it stands in the 21st century: hollow, self-indulgent, and shamelessly self-destructive. Many of Dav-Ko’s clients are thinly disguised celebrities – Jennifer Lopiss, for example – whose infantile behaviour provides for some comic relief. However, these comic interludes are short lived, and most often the clients are little more than coke snorting assholes that drive Bruno to popping Xanax and chugging Jim Beam. When one of Dav-Ko’s biggest clients, a tantrum throwing producer, tries to con Bruno out of the rights to one of his short stories using a “legendary Hollywood scam” that was old in Fante Senior’s day, Bruno snaps. There’s only so much shit a man can swallow.

In the end, 86’d is a good, fast read. Much funnier and far less plaintively obnoxious than other “addiction/recovery” books that blur the line between fact and fiction – Augusten Burrough’s Dry and the barely readable Million Little Pieces come immediately to mind – 86’d will likely strike a chord with anyone who’s tangled with addiction themselves. For those readers who have no such experience of their own, the book offers insight into how negative work situations often act as catalysts to substance abuse. Above and beyond that, though, 86’d is an enjoyable read and a welcome break from the mundanities of day-to-day grind best enjoyed with a cold beer, or a bourbon on the rocks.

Dan Fante’s 86’d is available now from Harper Perennial books.