Title: Ham On Rye
Author: Charles Bukowski
Page Count/Review Word Count: 318
This is Bukowski’s fourth novel, and it’s been described as his most autobiographical – nevertheless, like the work of Jack Kerouac, it’s difficult to categorise because of the pseudonyms that are used. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Hank Chinaski, crazy writer with a penchant for alcohol and horses.
At least, meet the young Hank Chinaski – Ham On Rye focuses largely on Bukowski’s childhood, and it’s a moving tale that delves deep in to his troubled relationship with his bastard of a father, a man who used to beat him with his belt and subject him to a range of ‘punishments‘ which would amount to child abuse in our modern society.
That’s not to say that alcohol isn’t mentioned, though – in fact, you’ll discover the secret of the great poet’s first ever drink as he comes of age during the Great Depression in Los Angeles. It’s interesting to read his early memories, and slightly surprising that he can still remember them after years of wine and regret.
As always, Bukowski’s writing is lucid and compelling, as moreish as the alcohol that he keeps on pouring down his neck. I doubt that he was ever the most attractive of people – his elderly, wizened face looks a bit like a walnut or the scrotum of an OAP – but his teenage years must have been particularly painful thanks to his excessive acne. It was so bad that he had to undergo painful medical treatments, and he details this with a frankness that’s surprisingly refreshing.
While it’s Bukowski’s poetry that made me fall in love with his work, his prose is also excellent and Ham On Rye is one of the best of his semi-autobiographical novels. If you’re yet to discover his work, this is as good a place as any to start out.