by Charles Bukowski (1982)
There is a great tradition in American literature of tough men telling masturbation soaked tales of youthful losers. I can’t say it’s my go-to source for reading, which is probably why Ham on Rye has sat on my book shelves for over a decade. I bought it in my high school years, exactly the right time to want to be into Bukowski. But I never was.
I wondered how his coarse, depressing stuff would read with an older me – and have a loose resolution to watch, read, and listen to artists I’ve never experienced but am curious about. I started with Tom Wolfe (big success) and Bukowski was right next to him on the shelf.
Like other rough and manly men of the written word, his writing is to the point. it’s sparse but still conveys a very vivid picture. The picture Ham and Rye shows is this: it sucked to be Charles Bukowski as a kid, or I should say, Hank Chinaski, his semi autobiographical anti-hero. If anyone asked him why he drank, he could probably just plop this book down on the table.
One almost expects this portrait of a young man, forced to the outside fringes of society to end with a mass murder perpetrated by the shunned, horny misanthrope rather than a penny arcade defeat. But true to Bukowski’s negative eye on the world – things end more poignantly with a whimper.
I was surprised to enjoy this book (well, enjoy is maybe too joyful a word). Though I do have a weird knack for reading bleak stuff when it’s at odds with my life (Miss Lonelyhearts before I got married, this one as Van sleeps peacefully next to me).