Ham on Rye, Cynicism for the Soul

This is my second Charles Bukowski book. One of the ‘Big Time’ American lit authors (not my first go-to genre). The other book was Post Office. I was floored with his hilarious no-nonsense style. A great laugh out loud book. My only beef with the book was a surprising rape scene that seemed to come out of nowhere. I had to go back to see if I missed something, and I didn’t.

I bought this book at the Bookmark in Halifax NS, and the cashier, fresh off a conversation with another customer, turns to serve me, looks at the book, and says ‘speaking of things that creep me out…’ explaining that it was because she was a woman.

Apparently the author’s sexist attitude may have somewhat dated him. Sad, as he has a very straight forward style I quite enjoy.

His rapid-fire method drives the story at a quick ‘n’ dirty pace. The best way to explain it, would be the same way he describes some of his earliest influences, detailed in this novel;

Regarding Upton Sinclair…

‘His sentences were simple and he spoke with anger. He wrote with anger.’ and ‘He came right out and said things plainly.’

On DH Lawrence…

‘How false it seemed at first. But I kept reading. The man at the piano was troubled. His mind was saying things. Dark and curious things.’ 

The author on a good day

Replace the piano with a typewriter, and he may as well be writing about himself. Which is essentially what he does in this novel through his alter ego Henry Chinaski.

He takes the reader from his earliest memories as a child up until the more familiar beginnings of an isolated drunk, who has a hate on for the whole world. His attitude reminds me of most angry comedians, who are constantly pissed, but still hysterical.

There is much to relate to in the novel if you were brought up of modest means (the books bulk is set during the Great Depression), and unpopular with peers through much of your childhood. He suffered from disfiguring boils all over his body, which became crippling to his self-confidence. Something I found easy to relate to, growing up with acne covering my face during the already awkward teenage years.

He has an obvious hate for the upper-class, both because of there smugness and the never-ending procession of opportunities presented at there feet. Again, not something difficult to relate to for many of us. However, the author has something many of them will never achieve. Immortality. An under dog that will last the ages in spite of his meager beginnings.

This was a very interesting and quick read. If you haven’t read anything by Charles Bukowski, I would perhaps read Post Office first, which is a lighter read. But this was an excellent look into the shaping of a cynical authors mind. And humorously done.

The novel in a few of it’s incarnations.


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