Charles Bukowski's novel "Post Office" is the first-person account of Henry Chinaski, a hard-drinking gambler and womanizer who goes to work for the United States Postal Service in Los Angeles. The story follows his experiences at the post office, weaving them together with his accounts of romantic affairs, sexual encounters, drinking, and gambling. Chinaski's life is full of encounters with various unsavory, tragic, or ridiculous characters.
"Post Office" is the ultimate "I hate this job" story. It's also an intriguing, and highly unflattering look at a quintessential American institution. Bukowski's prose style is crude, rude, and raw; often very funny, sometimes shocking, and sometimes poignant. But always highly readable. Bukowski effectively evokes a vision of a mind-numbing, soul-killing workplace that is ruled by a petty bureaucracy.
On one level, "Post Office" seems to have much in common with a classic "social protest" novel like Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," which also portrays the suffering and degradation experienced by the working person. But ultimately, "Post Office" seems like another species of novel altogether. Bukowski tells his story in a matter-of-fact style; he doesn't seem to care about offending or impressing anyone, and seems to offer no social agenda. He just tells it like it is. A fascinating book by an author who, I increasingly believe, is truly in a class all his own.
on October 31, 2001
This is the one, the book that launched Bukowski beyond small press cultdom, the book that launched Black Sparrow past its humble position in the publishing world, and its the book that to this day still initiates readers into the wild, wild realm of Henry Chinaski. This is the first Buk book I ever read, and remains my all time favorite. Is it his best book? No, my vote would go to HAM ON RYE for that, but it is, in my opinion, his wildest and most fun read of all! Along with CATCHER IN THE RYE, CATCH 22, and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, POST OFFICE should be regarded, and taught, as a CLASSIC American comic masterpiece! Kudos to any high school lit teacher or college prof with the balls to make this book required reading. If you've never read Bukowski, this is the place to start. If you've read all of Bukowski, and there are many of you out there, read this one again...just for the hell of it. Why not?
on April 30, 2006
Novels like this are rare, and writers like Charles Bukowski are one in a million. The word "authentic" comes to mind; his writing conveys a raw honesty and much needed non-mainstream point-of-view. Bukowski is the voice of dissent, the marginally employed, creatively frustrated working joe. Like the bird in the cage, his spirit is trapped in a world steeped in bureaucracy and bullsh*t.
Post Office covers Bukowski's 12 years as a postal employee and it follows his difficult working life, which echoes the working life and frustrations of millions. I can't help but think of David Henry Thoreau's famous quote (which applies to Bukowski): "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."
Bukowski, in fact, preaches a certain kind of civil disobedience.
We're all raised to want the same things: family, material possesions, a house, "respectable" jobs. I think now more than ever, we need Bukowski, we need to challenge the status quo and not buy into a shallow culture of materialism at the cost of trading our souls.
I recommend "Post Office" highly, also his poetry, particularly "You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense" and "The Last Night Of The Earth Poems." In addition, I recommend "A Working Stiff's Manifesto : A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember"
on March 26, 2004
If you haven't discovered this gem of an author yet (that would be a crime) i urge you not to start with this book.
Surely there's loads of great moments to be found in "Post office" but the story does wander here and there much too often, and the focus is lost making the book seem like the incoherent (but definitely entertaining) narration from someone at a bar while tossing back drinks.
Because this is "bukowskian" it's so entertaining that it will keep you reading (and grinning) despite its flaws, but I'd reccomend you to start rather from "Ham on Rye" (a masterpiece of humor and cynical social critique) or "Tales of everyday madness".
If you're already a fan this review is useless since you're more than likely reading everything by Bukowski anyway.
Approach with caution...
on July 18, 2006
I have read every one of Bukowski's published novels, all of his short stories that I've found, and most of his poetry. And although he's best known for his poetry, it remains his prose that floors me.
How did he do it? It's all so simple he makes it seem easy. This happens, then this happens, that that happens, the end. But no one's been able to ape that style of his effectively. No one. It only seems easy. In fact, that simplicity belies the workings of a brilliant author.
To me, POST OFFICE remains his best work. As I work for the USPS, I can say with some authority that nothing much has changed since his days there. It remains a static institution in the way labor interacts with management. As I am also a writer and published author, I can also state with some authority that Bukowski was, and remains, one of the best writers this nation has produced in a very long time. He always thought of himself as the inheritor of Hemingway. And I agree with that.
on June 26, 2006
Bukowski was a terrific writer who had a voice and style that was all his own to capture the grim realities of capitalist America from the perspective of low man on the totem pole. Post Office is written in short, concise sections, each one containing some brilliant vignette in the life of Henry Chinaski (Bukowski's alter ego) as he works a menial existence in the United States Postal Service. The drinking, the women, the screwing, the dangerous dogs, the degrading beaucracy and repetition, the physical tolls of daily labour, are all evoked with powerful clarity. And Bukowski has a mean wit that delivers raw humour in a few carefully laid out lines. I love the following exchange when Chinaski meets an elderly woman on his latest round:
"You're late today."
"Where's the regular man today?"
"He's dying of cancer."
"Dying of cancer? Harold is dying of cancer?"
"That's right," I said.
"BILLS! BILLS! BILLS!" she screamed. "IS THAT ALL YOU CAN BRING ME? THESE BILLS?"
Black, exquisitely done. You can tell a great stylist by the number of imitators they have, and Bukowski has thousands. But no one conveys the grim realities of low life America with as much honesty, conviction and bone dry wit as Bukowski.
on May 18, 2001
I have to say that this was my first Bukowski read ... wow ... I was totally impressed by its profound insights into the life of an artist who searches through the darkness and still ends up with a kind of dead pan bitterness about the futility of it all. I never worked for the post office, but after reading this book I sure as hell never want to. I rated this high because it's so honest and I thought Mr. Bukowski did such a great job in capturing his characters: all I imagine were taken from real life. But when you read this try to look beyond the sex, drugs, booze, and gambling. Because this guy uses life as his canvas and creates a picture of own life that will stay with you - it's a damn great book - just read it.
on March 12, 2004
One of the best books I've ever read. Period. Absent of pretension and predictable literary 'formula,' it sucks you in with street-wise grace and humor... existing in the face of numbing, oppresive and sometimes brutal conditions.
I went to the library and conducted a few searches on Bukowski. He was never a millionnaire. He refused to leave a small-town publisher, John Martin, in Santa Rosa CA -- despite being courted by major publishing houses after the success of the film "Barfly" (for which he received a whopping 20,000). The fact is - Bukowski worked at the Post Office for 15 years, and slogged through an existence of crap-jobs and flophouses prior. He walked it liked he talked it.
The simple and honest style is potent. He has the ability to take complicated issues dealing with the absurdity of life and put them down in a simple, flowing style -- without sacrficing depth (au contraire, the book seeps in after you've read it... and lingers).
If, like the reviewer GC from Reno, you're looking for a traditional literary standard, you should go somewhere else. Convention is not welcome here. But, if you're open to a raw and sometimes brutal perspective, stripped of pretentious sentimentality and the boring predictability of popular literature, this is your stop.
In its own weird way, it's a 'feel good' book.
on April 28, 2008
Toward the end of Post Office, Bukowski's next best novel after Ham on Rye, the protagonist Henry Chinaski has a revelation. Most of us scramble for job security, even if it comes at the price of our physical and emotional health, our creativity, and our identity. Anything's worth the cost of keeping a paycheck coming in on time. So we "accept" what we're given. This, Chinaski realizes, is "the wisdom of the slave" (p. 189), and he wants nothing to do with it. So he walks away from his civil service job with the postal department. Twelve years is enough.
The tussle between individual autonomy and economic security is one of the more obvious themes in both Post Office and Bukowski's other "working man" novel, Factotum. We become dependent on our jobs, psychologically as well as materially, and the dependency is hard to break. Post Office is the story of a guy who starts out free and loose (Part I), but who finds himself drifting toward spirit-deadening "respectability" and job security (Parts II-IV), only to finally break away and face the great unknown of unemployment--and artistic creativity (Parts V & VI). Along the way, Bukowski writes a few genuinely brilliant sketches of bureaucratic stupidity, and (uncharacteristically) a few moving ones in which Chinaski plays with the child, Marina, he's sired off of Fay. There are also some moments of quite good psychological insight, as when Chinaski, disoriented by the sudden loss of routine (even though it's a routine he despised) falls to pieces right after walking away from his job.
Thankfully, there's less of the relentless-to-the-point-of-tedium drinking in Post Office than one finds in most of Bukowski's other novels (although there's still a lot). Moreover, the novel is less impressionistic and better constructed than any other Bukowski tale except Ham on Rye. Even though it's difficult to understand the cult status granted Bukowski by his admirers, Post Office is a good novel--not great, mind you, but pretty darn good.
on September 20, 2000
This is possibly the greatest book by the greatest American writer. Bukowski speaks with an honesty and insight that is stunning to behold. He captures the American dialect so well that you can hear him telling this story as you read the book. He is funny and will make you laugh but only because what he says is true. Bukowski spent ten years working for the Los Angeles post office. When finally given a chance to quit his job he culled this book from his journal notes three weeks after leaving the post office. If you are just starting to explore Bukowski's prose this is a great starter book, quick moving, always interesting, and only mildly offensive in comparison to Women or The Most Beautiful Girl In Town.