"I could see the road ahead of me. I was poor and I was going to stay poor. But I didn't particularly want money. I didn't know what I wanted. Yes, I"I could see the road ahead of me. I was poor and I was going to stay poor. But I didn't particularly want money. I didn't know what I wanted. Yes, I did. I wanted someplace to hide out, someplace where one didn't have to do anything. The thought of being something didn't only appall me, it sickened me . . . To do things, to be part of family picnics, Christmas, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Mother's Day . . . was a man born just to endure those things and then die? I would rather be a dishwasher, return alone to a tiny room and drink myself to sleep." —Ham on Rye, 1982
While this quote comes from the narrator of Ham on Rye, this is generally the picture we've painted of its author, Charles Bukowski. The writing program from which I earned my degree never placed too much importance on Bukowski - he was considered mostly a lucky drunk - so I'm relatively new to his work. Previously I read Post Office, but I don't remember feeling the same kind of depression that Ham on Rye left me with. I was a mess for days after finishing - I told people that the book had stolen my innocence. That I saw no reason not to sit quietly in the corner of some barren room and drink myself stupid, daily.
"The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn't understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go." —Ham on Rye, 1982
There are so many similarities between current events and the events that Chinaski, our beloved drunk narrator, is living through: The Great Depression as to our Recession - The Nazi War as to our battle in the middle east. Chinaski's reactions are my own, mirrored back to me with grace only a person of right mind could muster - which makes Bukowski's history all the more fascinating.
The only reason I gave this book 4 stars is because the beginning is so slow. But the rest of the story more than makes up for that....more