Ham on Rye is flanked by sauces of happenstance and its delectability depends on the preferences of one’s reading tongue. Mine, for one, could not bear its sour, unsavoury ingredients.
In this bildungsroman, which is semi-autobiographical too, the protagonist, Henry Chinaski loads his bag of dilemma and expletives, and throws its weight around with nonchalance and non-disruptive disdain. The backdrop of the Great Depression, fuels the negative sentiments and Chinaski finds its shackles, throughout the novel, difficult to break away from.
This was my first Bukowski and it didn’t go entirely uneventful, thankfully. His brazenness and indifference met in a heady concoction, sending a mild swagger across the reading eye. His treatment of his family, friends, school, job and life at large, wasn’t without a stream of empathy which was successfully evoked with some explosive arrangement of words. Of his hopeless friends, he said,
It looked like it was my destiny to travel in their company through life. That didn’t bother me so much as the fact that I seemed irresistible to these dull idiot fellows. I was like a turd that drew flies instead of like a flower that butterflies and bees desired.
The charms of the initial dilemmas and Chinaski’s attempts (or non-attempts) to fathom them, drowned into a sea of booze for the better part of the book. Nothing mattered as long as drinking was an option and the young Chinaski held nothing beyond the tinted bottle. Purposelessness pervaded the pages like a rigid plague and Bukowski’s pen remained, painfully, under-qualified to bulk up nothing. A case of plot and prose, pulling each other down.
It appears that Bukowski’s life was way bitter and the taste nailed anger and anguish into his deepest cores. But perhaps, he didn’t write this book to shed those rusty flakes. He wrote to keep them alive. Almost like a protest, like a defiance. And under my reading lens, that defiance grappled without inspiration.
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