The popularity of Fante’s novels says much about the American psyche. An erudite drunk, Bruno Dante is short of stature but huge in volatility, the amount of alcohol he imbibes directly proportionate to his reactions in social situations. Careening through the streets of New York like a runaway train, Dante is a poster boy for an affluent society’s ugly underbelly: a series of low-pay, dead-end jobs and cheap rooms, his bosom companions found in bars, other down-and-out people struggling from sunrise to sunrise.
To be sure, the writing is intelligent, acerbic, even occasionally witty - if you prefer the cynicism of despair. But this is a character who revels in violence and drunkenness, oblivious to the world he inhabits, irreverent, judgmental and angry: “Within me, more and more, I was becoming aware that I was crazy.” Classic symptoms of an alcoholic, a condition of which Dante is inordinately proud.
I suspect the public’s embrace of this irreverent author stems from the sense of righteousness he brings to the underdog at the mercy of society and his own demons in a series of temporary jobs that are demeaning and demoralizing, each failure another excuse for a blackout drunk. Dante claims he drinks to avoid the voices in his head, but in one chapter a physician disabuses him of this concept: the voices stem from chronic alcoholism, the brain’s reaction to endless punishment.
From window washer to taxi driver, sidewalk peddler to telemarketer, Dante treads a circular sidewalk of defeat, glorying in the paucity of his life, a poor bet for intimacy or longevity. This anti-hero aims for cachet, a following of sorts. But with no hope and scarce humor, this is at best a sad, painful life, where sobriety is a penance too dull to be borne and rage is the anthem of despair. With incremental death by drink the only solution to a wasted life, the journey is agonizingly long.
The author bio on the back of the book suggests that this author is currently sober, so perhaps he is reliving the past in order to purge it, spewing old garbage in hopes of releasing his emotional burdens. Nevertheless, prude that I am, I found this self-indulgent rampage an exercise that glorifies the small world of a broken-down drunk - nothing to savor, much to avoid.
There are two more novels in the Bruno Dante series, both of which have the same drunken-noir tone, albeit with more of a storyline. Fans will praise his audacity, the bad boy who swaggers through life.