The drinking in of Charles Bukowski’s writing continues with “Ham on Rye.”
I wrote a few weeks back about blowing through “Post Office,” but I took my time with “Ham on Rye,” mostly because I didn’t want to finish it. It was such a gripping tale of Henry “Hank” Chinaski’s rough upbringing in Los Angeles during the Depression.
It’s heartbreaking, really, to read about how bad Hank’s early life was with a father who beat him, a loveless mother who turned a blind eye, the high school years spent as an outcast — equal parts because of a case of severe, grotesque body-covering acne mixed with his “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that got him into fisticuffs more than a few times — and an early introduction to the wonder and loneliness of alcohol.
Bukowski’s writing in this book is so raw. Through every trial and tribulation, you hope that the kid catches a break, but when that break never comes, you know you didn’t really expect it — that’s not Bukowski’s style. And that’s part of the reason why he’s so damn good.
There were so many lines that floored me, ones that just made me sit back stunned for a minute before I could continue on. Here are some of them:
“It made me feel good to write about the Baron. A man needed somebody. There wasn’t anybody around, so you had to make up somebody, make him up to be like a man should be. It wasn’t make-believe or cheating. The other way was make-believe and cheating: living your life without a man like him around.”
“And then along came Hemingway. What a thrill! He knew how to lay down a line. It was a joy. Words weren’t dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.”
“I read my books a night, like that, under the quilt with the overheated reading lamp. Reading all those good lines while suffocating. It was magic.”
“I wanted to live alone, I felt best being alone, cleaner …”
“He was stretched out on the grass, both of his arms spread out like some cheap Christ.”
“If you can hit a guy once, you can hit him twice.”
“But his eyes were magnificent in their fury, large blue blazing symbols of war and victory.”
“‘Are you a cynic?'”
“‘I’m unhappy. If I was a cynic it would probably make me feel better.'”
“It felt good to sit alone in a small space and smoke and drink. I had always been good company for myself.”
You, too, know how to “lay down a line,” Mr. Bukowski. A whole big bunch of them to make up a masterpiece.
Up next: “Women.”