Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book 33 – Post Office

By Charles Bukowski

Amy's Used Books in Amherst, Nova Scotia was probably the most plentiful and least musty-smelling bookstore Olman and I have come across, at least in Canada. However, the over-abundance of books resulted in stacks taller than myself which obscured the alphabetaized books in the shelves. I won't go into detail about how I toppled a six-foot stack when I attempted to extract a copy of Post Office. Suffice to say I was rather surprised that a book by the Buk wasn’t displayed behind the cashier. In fact the book (which was in great condition) was like six bucks (I saw the same used copy online asking for twenty-something euros).  So I thought it was a good find.

As the title suggests, Post Office chronicles the sordid life of Bukoswki’s alter ego Henry Chinaski when he lands a job as a substitute for the U.S. Postal Service. And what a miserable job it is. When he is not nursing another hungover at work, Chinaski is either chasing tail, getting gassed or betting on horses.  If it's a good day it's all of the above.  I've always been midly curious about Bukowski, and asked Olman if he had ever read anything by him.  He said he tried reading his stuff back in college but couldn’t finish because he found it too sexist. I thought that was kind of funny considering the male-centric genre books Olman likes to read. I do admit it was at times offputting the way Chinaski regards every female he encounters as potential lays and how he ogles a woman's breasts before even looking at her eyes.

In any case, this is a book where the author’s reputation far precedes it. But I liked Post Office both for and despite its dated sexism, racism and self-destructivism.  The fascistic and miserable environment of the post office is offset by the debauchery of the boozy, lusty Henry Chinaski. There is a colloquial deadpan style to the writing that is rather appealing, perhaps due to the fact that it might have been regarded as obscene at the time, but now comes off as rather quaint.  But the heart of the novel is still there. Anyone, male or female, who has ever been stuck working at a shitty dead-end job can definitely relate to how soul-deadening it can be. Bukowski was probably one of the first writers to truly express this.

Here is a review that sums up more thoughtfully and eloquently how I felt about Post Office.

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