In review: Ham on Rye

Charles Bukowski is arguably one of my favorite authors. Of course, when I inform people of this, those familiar with the author will ask me why. I have read many of his short stories and I have always been impressed with the talent this man has. I finally ventured out to read one of his novels over last winter break.

Bukowski’s style can sometimes be offensive – well most of the time it’s offensive. His work is abrasive, honest and cynical, not your typical romance or mystery novel, which is why I find his writing so appealing.

This novel depicts some of the experiences Bukowski encountered growing up and, might I add, is filled with many strange experiences. His first encounters with alcohol, women and his will to fight anyone, anywhere at anytime, are detailed.

Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego, grows up with a father that believed children should be seen and not heard. Discipline included a whipping with a razor strap his father hung in the bathroom. Later on in the story, his father trains him on how to keep a lawn, using scissors to cut stray blades of grass, mowing, watering and raking. If the lawn was not perfect by the end of Saturday afternoon, he would get whipped with the strap for discipline. These are just a few examples; his father is quite harsh not only towards his son, but to everyone.

His first encounter with a women happened as a young boy with a little lady named Lila Jane. One thing you will notice about Bukowski, or Chinaski, throughout the novel is his distorted obsession with women. He does not seem to look at them as if they are people but rather objects, a theme seen in many Bukowski writings.

Another important revelation that Henry stumbles upon as a young boy is wine. His friend and he happen upon a wide variety of wine in his friends’ basement. This is where Chinaski decides what most college students decide during a tumultuous semester – being drunk is just way better then being sober.

As an avid Bukowski reader, I find that this novel explains a lot about who this man is. The outsider, the writer, the excessive alcoholic, the fighter, the cynic – it seems that throughout the novel, he slowly accepts that he is who he is and he will never be the family man or the successful business man. This is one of those books you just cannot put down. I read it within a short period of time, stopping only to sleep and eat.

Charles Bukowski is a dirty old man and I love him for it.