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Shadowboxing With Bukowski Paperback – May 1, 2016
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A man works to keep his California bookstore afloat while meditating on his relationship with Charles Bukowski.
Kastin (The Conjurer and Other Azorean Tales, 2012, etc.) returns with a novel about a West Coast bookseller. When bibliophile Nick Kastinovich gets married, his father, disappointed in his son's life so far, lets him run the Little Big Bookstore, hoping that the small business will teach Nick a sense of responsibility. Nick settles into his new home and profession in San Pedro, home to poet Bukowski, who happens to frequent the restaurant across from the bookstore. The two build a polite familiarity, but San Pedro proves inhospitable to the book business. Try as he might, Nick can't seem to jump-start the Little Big Bookstore, and his life begins to deteriorate as a result. He fights off creditors as he continues to buy books, and his marriage turns cold as he fantasizes about a beautiful customer named Katherine. Woven together, these threads form the novel's central plot. Unsurprisingly, however, Bukowski is just as important as Nick. Less an active force than a constant influence, the poet, his work, and his occasional benevolence toward the bookstore prompt the protagonist's reflections on life and literature. Bukowski is also a primary literary influence for Kastin. Presumably, Nick Kastinovich is Kastin's version of Hank Chinaski (Bukowski's literary alter ego), and sentences like "the bookstore, San Pedro, all was just as corrupt, all of it rotting from the inside" evoke the poet's gritty nihilism. Sometimes, this makes Kastin's prose feel derivative, but more often it feels like a successful homage. Indeed, much of the book honors Nick's/Kastin's literary heroes: Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, and most of all John Fante (particularly, Ask the Dust). Kastin believes wholeheartedly in Nick's mission "to uncover great poets and essayists, playwrights and historians, and to share these discoveries with others, to keep these writers from fading into oblivion." This sincere devotion should speak to any reader, but especially to booksellers, who will likely recognize themselves in the protagonist's challenges and love of literature.
A novel about a life spent surrounded by books, heavily influenced by the grimy realism of a poet's life and work." From The Kirkus Review.
2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist for Literary Fiction
"Darrell Kastin's short, comic novel, Shadowboxing With Bukowski, is a finely written tale of a young man's misadventures in the book-selling trade and literary sub-culture of contemporary Los Angeles. The hero has a worthwhile, though romantic and ill-conceived dream--he is, after all, a lover of books and simply wants to share his love by selling good ones or, if necessary, giving them away. The narrative is self-deprecating and picaresque. Few books make me laugh out loud, but this one did."
--Tom Jenks, editor Narrative Magazine, and novelist.
A refreshingly original, deftly crafted and consistently compelling story from beginning to end, Shadowboxing With Bukowski clearly documents author Darrell Kastin as an exceptionally gifted novelist.
-- The Midwest Book Review
"I read it, and I LIKED it! Shadowboxing With Bukowski captured a moment in time that I remember very well. I think it adds another piece to the Buk legend."
--John Martin, Black Sparrow Press.
"Shadowboxing With Bukowski not only captures Bukowski's elusive (some say nonexistent) classic high grace, but offers a humorous, uncanny depiction of desperately running a bookstore while it was running itself out of success. Fun stuff fluffing up the underground heart."
--Douglas Blazek, poet, author of Ventriloquy of Light & Gutting Cats in Search of Fiddles, editor of The Bukowski Sampler, publisher/editor of Open Skull Press, Olé.
From the Author
Shadowboxing With Bukowski takes place in the mid-1980s, in San Pedro, California, L.A.'s harbor. I wrote the book wanting to capture the time and locale, the places and characters, in particular Charles Bukowski who was frequently around, and who was good enough to help us out when we needed it most.
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Certainly there will be many readers who will not be able to go the distance with a book about the owners of a used bookstore – and that’s what this is about – but for those who can, this is a rare and flavorful treat.
In musical terms, this is not a symphony, there are no grand or epic dramas. This is not heavy metal glam pop rock, no great action here; no Disney moments or boy band appeal. This is like smooth, but kooky jazz – a battered but playable road weary blues guitar and a put together drum set throwing down rhythm with a bass player met the night before – laying down a twisted, frenetic groove.
The protagonist, an accidental manager and son of the investment owner, with the apparently unfortunate name Kastinovich makes a go at running a used San Pedro book peddler called, aptly enough, The Little Big Bookstore. Across the economically depressed street is a greasy spoon deli owned by a mad Romanian and haunting the neighborhood on foot and behind the wheel of his black BMW is Bukowski.
Hank Chinaski – the pseudonym and nom de guerre of himself, the Barfly, the street poet - Charles Bukowski, author of such blue collar, back alley and neon illuminated titles as Women and Ham on Rye. Set in the early 90s, and in the lonesome, near desert Los Angeles bedroom of San Pedro, Kastinovich, his wife and baby daughter take over an old bookstore and the story is about Kastinovich’s travails and heartfelt attempts at making the business make a profit.
Along the way, author Darrell Kastin takes his readers on a wild ride of introspective literati. Kastinovich inhabits the shop as if a prisoner in an insane asylum. His attempts to sell books and books and books is met with internal demons and the ghosts of his unproductive past; and all told with a style in homage to Bukowski, John Fante and Hunter S. Thompson. Akin with Jo Walton’s award winning book catalog Among Others, Shadowboxing with Bukowski features a plethora of Los Angeles writers, poets and minor celebrities as well as a parade of paperback book titles that made me smile frequently.
Kastin is a talent and this book, a celebration of books and booksellers, was a pleasure to read.
*** A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review
If you only appreciate formulaic run-of-the-mill novels, the dark but comic Shadowboxing with Bukowski is not for you. However, if you’re like me who is desperately seeking something introspective, distinctive and different, you’ll enjoy this one.
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Shadowboxing with Bukowski started out as one of those types of books. The narrator felt like he could be a fellow book loving soul who I as a reader would be able to join on his journey of trying to save his dying bookshop. However, as the book progressed, I found myself disliking him more and more because his voice became more pretentious the further you read. He might have said things to the contrary, but every sentence was loaded with self importance and I couldn't stand it for stretches at a time.
The plot moves slowly enough, which I normally don't mind because that's generally what this sort of book is like. I could have forgiven it once more, but not with a narrator that sounds like he would rather be doing anything else than trying to save his store. I couldn't even finish the book, to be honest, his voice was that grating.
If you think you might like to check out book about book collectors or people who work in bookshops, I'd recommend Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone or Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures From a Year in a Bookstore by Suzanne Strempek Shea.