I had been wanting to read a Charles Bukowski novel after seeing the illuminating documentary, Born into this.
As Goodreads describes Ham on Rye, ‘Charles Bukowski details the long, lonely years of his own hardscrabble youth in the raw voice of alter ego Henry Chinaski‘.
What started out seemingly mediocre turned into a tour de force about one of the most vial, detesting characters I have ever read – Henry Chinaski. He could well be the greatest outcast character ever written in contemporary American Literature. This book tells so much about the ugly untold social underbelly (aspire to be rich, but really are poor) of North America during its post Depression era.
The high testosterone, sense of alienation and machismo of adolescence is brilliantly captured in Ham on Rye. You really feel entrapped in the mind of this seriously flawed individual, but by the end greatly relieved that it isn’t you who has to keep on keeping on in the misery and the filth. Or may be we have a little bit of Henry in all of us, but we just turn a blind eye to it like the rest of society does.
Ham on Rye Quotes:
* “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.”
*“The best thing about the bedroom was the bed. I liked to stay in bed for hours, even during the day with covers pulled up to my chin. It was good in there, nothing ever occurred in there, no people, nothing.”
*“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole goddamned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.”
*“You are thirty minutes late.”
“Would you be thirty minutes late to a wedding or a funeral?”
“Why not, pray tell?”
“Well, if the funeral was mine I’d have to be on time. If the wedding was mine it would be my funeral.”
*“And my own affairs were as bad, as dismal, as the day I had been born. The only difference was that now I could drink now and then, though never often enough. Drink was the only thing that kept a man from feeling forever stunned and useless. Everything else just kept picking and picking, hacking away. And nothing was interesting, nothing. The people were restrictive and careful, all alike. And I’ve got to live with these fuckers for the rest of my life, I thought. God, they all had assholes and sexual organs and their mouths and their armpits. They shit and they chattered and they were dull as horse dung. The girls looked good from a distance, the sun shining through their dresses, their hair. But get up close and listen to their minds running out of their mouths, you felt like digging in under a hill and hiding out with a tommy-gun. I would certainly never be able to be happy, to get married, I could never have children. Hell, I couldn’t even get a job as a dishwasher.”