What a weary time those years were - when you had the desire and the need to live, but not the ability.
This book was on a staff recommendation shelf at Half Price Books awhile back and after reading the synopsis I decided to buy it. I went into it without any expectations, which I've come to learn is the best way to go into reading any novel, really. Ham on Rye is a semi-autobiographical novel of Bukowski's own life, which makes the book all the more fascinating. We follow Henry Chianski, Bukowski's alter-ego, grow from a child into a young man during the Great Depression. It's a coming-of-age novel, but it's quite different from most other novels I've read in that genre. Bukowski's prose is straighforward but powerful, the diction is crude but intriguing. I have to say Henry Chianski is a character I won't soon forget. The majority of his childhood is filled with uncertainty and loneliness and even though he is a prick most of the time, I still wanted him to succeed in life.
This book is not for the fainthearted, as it's soaked with profanities, dirtiness, and violence; masturbation, impromptu trysts in the backseat of abandoned cars, and drunken brawls. About halfway through my reading of Ham on Rye, I actually stopped and thought to myself, there is no way teenage boys think about sex and women's anatomy that much. The subject permeates a good portion of the novel. But it's about more than that; it's about the awkwardness that is adolescence and growing up in a time when there was little opportunity and making the most out of it.
We were the way we were, and we didn't want to be anything else. We call came from Depression families and most of us were ill-fed, yet we had grown up to be huge and strong. Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn't ask for love or kindness from anybody. We were a joke but people were careful not to laugh in front of us. It was as if we had grown up too soon and we were bored with being children.In addition, I felt that Bukowski's outlook on life, or at least the outlook he related through Chianski, is somewhat Vonnegut-esque. As Vonnegut stated, "We are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different," Bukowski writes, "The whole earth was nothing but mouths and assholes swallowing and shitting, and fucking."It's all just a deconstruction of the wonderful beings we believe ourselves to be and a reminder that at the end of the day, we are all human, stinking, sweating, germy people just trying to make it through.
I ended up liking this book a lot, which was actually a bit of a surprise to me. I wasn't surprised in the way that I feel like I'm too good for the book and all this crudeness is just absurd (I actually rather intrigued by it). Instead, I was surprised in the sense that a novel that included such low morals and a lack of a plot could communicate such universal issues that felt so relevant to me. That is what surprised me. But I think we can all relate to coming-of-age stories, not matter how great or how little.
Though the novel isn't super short, it's actually a quick read. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Rebel, Inc, 1982