In fiction, I like bleak. I like grim. Despair. I’d even say that I like depressing narratives. I feel that they create a negative pulse. A gulp and frown reaction at the end of nearly every chapter that makes you realize that maybe you don’t have it too bad or in some cases, that you’re not alone in whatever darkness envelops you.
I also like having physical reactions to literature.
My physical reaction to Bukowski’s semi autographical novel, HAM ON RYE – multiple showers after reading.
There’s just something about the story and the telling of it, a coming of age tale where there’s no redeeming qualities and not a single character that I felt attached to or sympathetic for, that was fascinating. I read it in two days. And I don’t normally do that. And I can’t tell if the fast pace was because I was flipping pages faster than usual because I needed to find out if the main character ended up getting laid, to me the quest at the heart of HAM ON RYE, or if he actually acquired anything resembling compassion.
If there’s bait for a reader to plow through this book, whether or not it was purposeful or not, the masterful tension created by the main character’s lust and a lasting hope for the reader that an author wouldn’t create such an ugly and revolting character that would go through even a small change for the better by the end.
HAM ON RYE closes with disappointment. It’s a firecracker that never goes off. A let down. But that doesn’t take anything away from my enjoyment. Henry Chinaski, the protagonist, winds up in the same place as he was at the start – defeated and a total prick. While the reader gains insight into why he’s a prick – the terrible acne, the uncaring parents, etc. but what really influences my final diagnosis is the fact that he makes no attempt to change his shit situation in life and his proliferation of hateful behavior (could/should) lead the reader to detest him.
And I was more than okay with that.
Some people read books as a guide for how to live a better life and this, you would read this as a guide on how not to live your life.
All that said, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s honest and ugly.