Today I have a book review for you today by this guy named Charles Bukowski. Let me give you some background on this Dirty Old Man to give you an idea for what we’re getting into:
Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City.
In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”. Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”
Going into Post Office, I was pretty blind. The extent I had heard was that he was an American Beat writer and the friend who gave me my copy of Post Office told me when I asked them “What’s this about? What’s Bukowski like?” They kinda looked off, chuckled, and said “Bukowski is a bastard. You’ll like em.” After reading Post Office, I get it.
Post Office falls square in this sub-genre called Dirty Realism and it wasn’t named because of this book but it could have been.
Spoiler Free Summary and Review:
The Narrative follows a guy named Henry Chinaski and his drunken meanderings between Post Offices in California with a brief stint in Texas, the overall narrative reminds me of the movie, “Barfly” which is “Based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski and his exploits in Hollywood during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.” (IMDB)
Overall I was a little offended, the story was strange, but I found that I was so amused I couldn’t quite stop until it was done reading. I equate developing a taste for Bukowski like developing a taste for hot sauces: it’s never entirely pleasant but when you understand the burn an appreciation can be developed.
Genres: Dirty Realism, Transgressive Fiction, Creative Non-fiction, Semi-autobigraphical
3 sentence summary:
- Chinaski gets a job at the Post Office in the xams season and delivers mail for a spell, drowning a truck and loosing mail and skipping work to go to the racetracks.
- Chinaski quits the Post Office to go run with a lover from Texas and be a bum since she has rich parents.
- Chinaski goes back to the post office as a mail sorter, rather than a carrier, has a child with his first lover who leaves him taking the kid with her at which point he has a several day breakdown resulting in an epic multi-day party binge drinking everything in sight until he wakes up “…at 1:10 p.m., death in the afternoon and it was hot, the sun ripping through my torn shades to rest on the jar in the center of the coffeetable. “Francis” had stayed with me all night, stewing in alcoholic brine, swimming in the mucous extension of the dead diastole. Sitting there in that jar.”, that jar has a preserved human heart the medical student, “Francis”, left at his place; then after one more nap “In the morning it was morning and I was alive. Maybe I’ll write a novel, I thought. And then I did.”.
- What sticks out to me the most is the scene when Chinaski is still a mail carrier and he’s caught in a mega rain storm and floods the truck and it gets late and he keeps lighting MATCHES in the rain to see the map because he’s lost. In the dark. In the rain. And then the mail truck floods and dies. Comedy gold.
- I felt surprisingly bad when Betty left Chinaski the first time. Particularly the ending line of chapter 1 part 2 “I had just lost three women and a dog.” Which my situation was a bit different, and I (sometimes) think of myself as a more sympathetic character, but this happened to me once. I was in an open relationship and was seeing three women, one of which had a dog, and in one awful week they were all gone.
- I still laugh at the scene where the xmas tree falls on Chinaski:
“What happened? What is it?”
“CAN’T YOU SEE? THAT GOD DAMNED TREE TRIED TO MURDER ME!”
Conclusion: Chinaski is a bad person. He drinks too much, he’s a womanizer, and he’s not a generally nice guy. However this works because when bad things happen to him, it’s funny because the reader isn’t made to sympathise with the character but to follow in his strange adventures. This isn’t to say Chinaski is a flat character either, he’s surprisingly reliable taking care of his kid and lovers and staying at the Post Office through some hilariously bad miss adventures, the bad things that happen to him which we found funny *because* he wasn’t a likable character, and ultimately choosing a life as a writer than as a water hazard accidental almost arsonist Post Office worker. Chinaski’s character arc is as amusing as it is surprising with out the cheap one read type of surprise that warrants a future revisiting.