Thursday, June 28, 2012

Charles Bukowski: Ham on Rye

Ham on Rye (1982): Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was an American author of poetry, short stories, and six fictional novels.  A resident of Los Angeles, Mr. Bukowski was a notable writer who was also known for his hard partying lifestyle and sometimes graphic prose.  Many readers of this blog will remember the film, Barfly (1987), starring Mickey Rourke as Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, and Faye Dunaway as his girlfriend.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the HBO documentary, Born Into This (2003), depicting the life of Charles Bukowski and featuring commentary by Sean Penn, Bono, Tom Waits, and Linda Lee Bukowski (the author’s wife and final muse). I had seen Barfly many years ago and perused Bukowski’s work at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.  The documentary ignited a new curiosity of the author and I headed to my local bookstore to fine Ham on Rye, a semi-autobiographical novel depicting the character, Henry Chinaski.

Many people write Mr. Bukowski off as an alcoholic misogynist but in Ham on Rye, readers will see the seeds of his foundation.  Growing up as a young boy in the 1930’s, the author’s father was a strict disciplinarian who beat his son on a weekly basis with a leather shaving strop. Young Henry/Charles was not permitted to interact with other neighborhood children and the family was estranged from most of their extended relatives.  The prison of his home life coupled with the hardships of the Great Depression, created a bleak childhood for Henry.  In his adolescent years, he began to grow stronger and make friends. Unfortunately, Henry developed a vicious case of acne.  “I was the worst case in town. I had pimples and boils all over my back, face, and neck, and some of my chest. I had to withdraw.” (Bukowski, 122) This is a turning point in the novel and Henry spends many days hiding from the world in his bedroom. Ultimately, he has to leave high school for treatment in the primitive medical world of the Great Depression.  He dreams of women but lives like a hermit, unable to connect to anyone.  Books become his only refuge and sow the seeds for his future as a writer.

The novel progresses into Henry’s return to high school and unsuccessful journey into college. For this young man, life is never easy or blissful but he will not choose suicide and forages ahead.  The novel ends during his early adult years as he is becoming more immersed in his heavy drinking escapades.  Ham on Rye is one of the best books I have read in a while. The storytelling, humor, and historical details make this book a wonderful novel.  It is an important book and readers will become immersed in this authors’ colorful life and resilience. Those who are not enamored with his later works or lifestyle will gain a better understanding of Charles Bukowski by reading the novel, Ham on Rye.

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

-- by Charles Bukowski

No comments:

Post a Comment