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Post Office: A Novel Paperback – February 27, 2007
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About the Author
Charles Bukowski is one of America’s best-known contemporary writers of poetry and prose and, many would claim, its most influential and imitated poet. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, to an American soldier father and a German mother, and brought to the United States at the age of two. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for more than fifty years. He died in San Pedro, California, on March 9, 1994, at the age of seventy-three, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.
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Chinaski drinks, frolics, and bets on horses - every day if money could be found to provide all of the above. With a job at the postoffice, and a woman who was willing to take his persona for a few days or be his roomie, for weeks or months he could get two of the three loves of his life without too much expense. And, if the bets won at the track, he would have a personal trifecta.
But Chinaski's life depresses as his daily grind among the bureaucratic bores of "soups" (who supervised and badgered workers over the minutest details, while losing all concept of making working conditions enjoyable - thereby making workers much less productive) is an inevitable mixing of the prophetic oil and water. He cannot obey, and they cannot live with his disobedience.
Anyone who has worked for the bureaucracy will laugh at times when they see how the pyramid scheme to destroy a worker escalates by lashing memos delivered on a constant basis whenever a soup feels the subordinate is one he does not like or wish to have under his command.
Anyone who has read the beat generation bible - On the Road - would see a lot of its protagonist Sal Paradise in Henry Chinaski. The autobiographical style is similar. The handling of women: similar. And, so forth.
Not all people like beat, and not all people need to read about foibles of the post office department and its imperfect management and work atmosphere. For many, the approximately 200 pages of the job description may be 190 pages too many.
But, this is a modern style of writing which touches upon modern issues in a very aggressive manner which does not adorn with flowery language or overused metaphor. Bukowski's to-the-point narrative makes the book seem more real, and much more appropriate for a description of a workplace which uses shades of gray for its walls and floors, and lacks much adornment elsewhere within its confines.
The writing style of this book fits like a glove for the topic to which it addresses. He states so eloquently about postal workers: "They either melted or they got fat., huge, especially around the ass and the belly. It was the stool and the same motion and the same talk. And there I was, dizzy spells and pains in the arms, neck, chest, everywhere. I slept all day resting up for the job. On weekends I had to drink in order to forget it. I had come in weighing 185 pounds. Now I weighed 223 pounds. All you moved was your right arm."
I really want a response on this one because I don't get what I missed.
If you're looking for a funny read I recommend Funny in Farsi, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Bitter is the New Black.
The most provocative elements of this book was certainly the portions where we see the shuffling, confusing, scary catch-22 Brazil-esque burlesque of his work in the Post Office itself. Cycling in and out, over and over, unable to even quit his job, Bukowski created a labyrinthine grand guinol of paper and sorting boxes all standing in his way of his net drink, his next lay, and his ability to even write a halfway decent line of poetry. In many ways, this reflects how I personally see my own art in the world, and it is in this manner that I really connected with his character in this book. In real life, the genesis of this book and Bukowski’s career came from being offered a hundred bucks a month to quit the post office to promise to write full time by John Martin and Black Sparrow Press…and so we all wish for this little black sparrow angel to fly into our window someday.
The most beautiful element of the book was easily the portrayal of his relationship with Betty (Jane Cooney Baker). They were perfect for each other, but in the piece the sentimentality with which he approached their relationship in both tone, diction, syntax, and other practical elements isn’t mirrored by any other writing in the book or in his approach to any other woman in any of his books. It is simply this beautiful, pure, self-destructive relationship that serves as a wholly gorgeous and holy relic that he certainly held on to for the rest of his life…and it seems that the story arc with her is one of the most beautiful things that he had ever written – the only thing that he had ever cared for snatched from him just as he realized that it was the most important thing in the world to him. What destroyed her is exactly what he tried to destroy himself with, and in her death he found the death of love, the death of a healthy sexual identity, and the death of himself.
Of course, the narrative pacing and overall diction of Bukowski's narrative voice are certainly the most compelling elements of this book. There is a certain blue-collarness to his writing that offers a remarkably simple approach to what is often a much more serious and Complicated piece – but his genius lies in this very thing. Bukowski can create a story that is appropriate for all intellectual audiences and still write something that is completely different in terms of overall beauty and meaning in the English Language. This is likely why legions of writers thought they could follow in his footsteps and write when nothing could be further from the truth (and Bukowski had no problem telling them that).
An excellent, excellent, excellent book that should be required reading for all American men.
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