Dan Fante: Corksucker
Author: Dan Fante
It could be argued that good fiction contains an element of emotional tourism; an opportunity to empathise with the feelings and experiences of others, without having to actually spend your life living through their consequences. If so, the setting of Dan Fante’s collection of short stories, Corksucker*, in the seedy underbelly of L.A. could not be more appropriate. Fante has no more interest in the glamour of Hollywood than he does in the lives of those that society has protected and rewarded.
Instead he places his central character in a broken down cab that works the baking hot streets by day and accepts the dangers of picking up strangers in an unforgiving city by night. The setting is matched by the dark and oppressively harsh lives of the people whose stories he tells. For them, you feel there will be no Hollywood ending and for the emotional tourists of Fante’s readership, this really is a visit to the shabby end of the ‘City of Angels’.
Fante is a writer who has much to live up to, given that his father John is one of the great American authors of the last century. Added to that, any writer whose bio reads “went to a party aged twenty-one, came back twenty years later”, had better have some tales to tell. Fortunately, Fante has much to say, but whether his stories will ever reach the audience they deserve is debatable. As in terms of style, and to an extent subject matter, Fante’s most obvious comparison would be to his father’s great champion, Charles Bukowski – not a writer you’d describe as ‘Disney friendly’.
Corksucker contains eight short stories about a would-be writer forced by circumstance, and given a helping push by alcohol, into working the cabs of L.A. Like all his work, it’s suspiciously autobiographical, and deals in the world of booze, drugs, dysfunctional relationships and failed lives. It’s harsh stuff, but always edged with humour, and never, for me at least, hard going. Of the eight stories, Mae West is the stand out and Renewal perhaps the weakest. As I’d already read his three novels, I was on familiar territory, and enjoyed the verve of his story telling with my only real quibble being a price of £7.99 for a collection of just over 120 pages.
For those who have read Fante before, you know what you’ll being getting, more of the same, and all the better for that. For the uninitiated, I’d be reluctant to make a recommendation unless you already enjoy the work of Bukowski or perhaps Irvine Welsh. If you like them, then Fante is a treat, although I’d suggest you start with his first novel Chump Change.
*Corksucker is published in America under the title Short Dog.