Book Review for “Short Dog: Cab Driver Stories from the L.A. Streets” by Dan Fante.
According to the blurbs about this book: “Dan Fante lived the stories he wrote. His voice has the immediacy of a stranger of the next barstool, of a friend who lives on the edge. As he writes in Short Dog (the title is street slang for a half-pint of alcohol): “I had been back working a cabbie gig as a result of my need for money. And insanity. “Hack driver is the only occupation I know about with no boss, and because I have always performed poorly at supervised employment, I returned to the taxi business. The up side, now that I was working again, was that my own boozing was under control and I was on beer only, except for my days off.”
Age: Adult (warning: harsh language, violence, sex, drugs, and alcohol); Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary; USA – Los Angeles, California; Other Categories: Short Stories, Re-Release from 2005.
I have a very good friend who is always writing these lovely vignettes about her real-life experiences and conversations she’s had with taxi drivers – most of which are heartwarming, some of which are sad, and a few are even a touch scary. That’s why, when I saw this book available on Edelweiss, I thought “sure, why not? Let’s try a book with stories from the cabbie’s side.” I was hoping for some witty tales of strange and interesting riders – maybe even a few famous ones, seeing as they take place in LA. However, little did I know what I was getting into, and since I didn’t know the author, I was very much taken aback by some of these stories. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, so before I discuss this further, let’s start with what is included in this collection (which was originally released in 2005):
- Bangin’ Out the Dents: An Introduction by Willy Vlautin
- Wifebeater Bob
- Mae West
- Caveat Emptor
- Marble Man
- 1647 Ocean Front Walk
Already you can see that there aren’t many stories here, and all told, this book is less than 200 pages long (with the intro), so we’re definitely talking short here, not just short stories, but a small collection at that. Furthermore, you can already see from the name of the first story that Fante isn’t going to be holding anything back with these tales. Now, I’m not totally sure where I got the idea that these were all going to be humorous, but I think this bit in one blurb was what I saw “These outsider stories are raw, vivid, and brutally honest. But even when the stories are fueled by anger and disgust, they are punctuated by unexpectedly funny and dark-humored vignettes.” I guess I skimmed over the “anger and disgust” part and then totally missed or misunderstood the part that said “Short Dog is for readers ready for a cab ride on the wild side.”
So, as I said, not being familiar with Fante’s work, I really didn’t know what I was in for with these stories. And to begin with, the first ones included in this collection actually did make me laugh in places. However, with each passing story, Fante’s alter-ego Bruno, became less amusing and increasingly self-destructive. Now, I’m no prude, and I can take the occasional F-bomb and have been known to use a good number of profanities in my own speech. But this… I’m afraid that even for me, some of the language and things going on in these stories was hard to stomach. Okay, so maybe I am a little bit of a prude, but I think there’s a fairly distinct line when such things go from being interestingly rough to just downright offensive, and I’m afraid Fante crossed that line in at least two of his stories here.
I must also so that thank goodness for the introduction to this book, or I would have very much worried about Fante. In that intro, we get to understand how Fante cleaned up his act, and that Bruno was his way of taking the worst of his own past and putting it all into this fictional character. I suppose, however, that having dealt with drug and alcohol addiction, putting those feelings and situations from prior to his getting clean into fiction must have been a type of therapy for Fante, and you have to give him some credit for that. However, for me, it was an unpleasant journey at times. Because of that, even though I appreciated Fante’s skill and bravery in writing these stories, I think I’m going to give it three out of five stars, and only recommend it to those who aren’t faint of heart.
Black Sparrow Press re-released “Short Dog” by Dan Fante on July 13, 2021 in the US, and July 22 in the UK. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.