fiction, review

Ham on Rye

Is it as much a self-telling prose as The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship? I cannot tell. After reading Charles Bukowski’s several poems and two of his stories, I failed to decide what he actually talks about, though I’m previously so certain about it. Blindly taking a stab in the dark is not wise, I guess. But as far as I’m concerned, Bukowski never shies away from telling a bit about himself, in any way he is capable of. Fictional or otherwise, Ham on Rye is, I believe, the embodiment of that “bit about himself”. In reverse to The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Ham on Rye is all about childhood and a broken, unhappy family.

Suppose it is about Bukowski himself, here he reveals his life during his childhood up to his adolescence. Claiming himself as Henry Chinaski, he describes his horrible family, with a terrible father ruling the house like an iron-fisted dictator and think of himself as the best man in the world. To cap it all, his mother is powerless and submissive. Being a kid, Chinaski can only do nothing but to follow suit. Domestic violence is everywhere I read along the first pages, and it’s all described as blatantly as Bukowski’s used to do in his every writing. Chinaski’s life is not getting better as he reaches his teens. And at this stage, he’s also crudely forthright about his normal sexual desire toward the opposite sex: his friends, his teachers, his neighbors. Much as he never deems it wrong, he unfortunately never has a girlfriend, or at least any girl, to do it with him.

The story reaches its peak when Chinaski’s brutal father finally kicks him out of their house. Homeless and penniless, Chinaski then wanders aimlessly from one place to another and sleeps anywhere he can find something to call a bed. He seems not to care much about being homeless nor his state of penury. All he thinks about is writing and mostly, drinking. His upbringing, at this point, might be the cause of his selfishness, the thought that he doesn’t need anyone and is better off being alone. His anti-trust toward everyone in the world drives him to cynicism and thinking that all people are just stupid and idiot.

Here in Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski once again proves himself to be blatant, crude, forthright, and way too much vulgar for his own good in his simplicity  of words and expression. He is not trying to be a good person, and definitely won’t pretend to be, and shows it through his writing. He writes what he wants to and goes on with it. I wholeheartedly admire this very nature, but somehow what he conveys is annoying me. To be honest, I don’t really like this story. It’s an honest story, yes, but it doesn’t have anything in it. No message, no meaning, no inspiration whatsoever. Ham on Rye is like a lifeless story about someone who frankly doesn’t give a damn (if you’ll excuse my French) about anything but himself. He may be talking about the bitter reality of life, which I can understand and give appreciation, but ending a story without anything for the reader to hold is like shoving a blank page under the reader’s nose.

Be that as it may, I do agree with Bukowski’s premise that our life is only for ourselves, though it forms the base of his cynicism. I know this is ridiculously contradictory, but I don’t think being cynical and opinionated that no one has even half of your brain is a good base to live our life, not to mention to change it.

Well, at the end, I would strongly advise against reading this book. If a book doesn’t have anything in it but cynicism and displays of domestic violence, why bother?

Rating: 2.5/5

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