Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood: Hank Gets Happy

hollywoodHollywood is the last installment of Bukowski’s autobiographical Henry Chinaski series. It’s the thinly-disguised story of the making of the 1987 movie, Barfly, which starred Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. The Chinaski of Hollywood is a radical departure from the Henry Chinaski of the earlier novels. In Hollywood, Hank is prosperous and content, doing what he wants, living in a comfortable house with his wife, whom he calls “my good Sarah,” driving a new BMW. Henry has it made. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood: Hank Gets Happy

Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye: The Good Fight

Ham on Rye by Charles BukowskiCharles Bukowski’s fourth novel, Ham on Rye, was written in 1982, after he had found success as a writer, moved from East Hollywood to the harborside village of San Pedro, and had established his relationship with Linda Lee Beighle, whom he would marry and stay with the rest of his life. Ham on Rye is an autobiographical novel about Bukowski’s childhood during the Great Depression, and from this vantage point of relative security and well-being and love, he could look back on the harrowing forces that formed him in a way that transforms his personal pain into a brilliant work about what it is to be human. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye: The Good Fight

Charles Bukowski’s Factotum: Jack o’ No Trades

factotumA “factotum” (Latin for “do everything”) is a jack of all trades—a guy who can trim your hedges, tune-up your car, fix your leaky kitchen faucet, and build a tool shed in your backyard. As the title of Bukowski’s second novel, the term Factotum is used tongue-in-cheek. Although Hank Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego, describes some twenty jobs he had as a struggling young writer, he had no talent for doing anything other than writing, and he had no desire to work at anything but writing. He didn’t fit in as an employee anywhere and clearly never could—he sees the way the world works too clearly and can’t hide his contempt for his “superiors,” especially after selling a story to a top literary mag. But he had to pay the rent and buy booze. So, here he is, pushing the boulder up the mountain over and over again. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Factotum: Jack o’ No Trades

Leland Pitts-Gonzalez’ The Blood Poetry: Uncle Fester Gets Religion

Blood Poetry by Leland Pitts-GonzalezEpstein Dorian is at loose ends. His wife is missing. His mother’s a vampire. His teenage daughter’s a basket case. He spends all of his time at home watching documentaries about gruesome murders and serial killers. His sexuality is confused. He entertains libidinous thoughts about his mother, as well as his wife and girlfriend, and at one point even convinces a young male street beggar to perform oral sex on him for money. Continue reading Leland Pitts-Gonzalez’ The Blood Poetry: Uncle Fester Gets Religion

Jack Kerouac’s Good Blonde & Others – Between Sadness & Exultation

good-blondeGood Blonde & Others is a collection of Jack Kerouac’s short writings, some autobiographical, some discussions of literature—including his novel The Subterraneans—others talking about jazz or baseball or his cat or whatever caught his attention for that moment.

One of the joys of the collection is of course just the writing itself—Kerouac’s sadness in constant interplay with poetic exultation. Another joy of the collection is the clarity it brings to your understanding of Kerouac’s fiction, just by watching his themes and obsessions unfold around a wider variety of topics, in short essays that are often more accessible than his fiction. Continue reading Jack Kerouac’s Good Blonde & Others – Between Sadness & Exultation

Adam Golaski’s Worse Than Myself – Short Stories Like Nightmares

worse-than-myselfAdam Golaski’s stories in Worse Than Myself are scary. They’re also compelling stories—the word that comes to mind is addictive. I’ve never  gone out of my way to read horror stories, but if I saw that an Adam Golaski story had been published anywhere—in a magazine, on a blog—I would go out of my way to read it.

George Williams’ stories in Gardens of Earthly Delight (review) are frightening because they deal with the real horror around us—modern weapons, our growing irritation with each other, the degeneration of civility, our strip-mined landscapes.

Golaski’s stories are scary because each of them hones in on a familiar and permanent source of human anxiety—the fear of sinking into an obsession, paranoia about the opposite sex, the fear of squandering your life, the fear of helplessness. Continue reading Adam Golaski’s Worse Than Myself – Short Stories Like Nightmares

Women by Charles Bukowski – Love in the Face of Mortality

Women by Charles BukowskiBukowski’s Women is a ribald comedy about a poet, Henry Chinaski, who’s reached that point in mid-life where you find yourself thinking a lot about your own mortality. Here’s a self-description (on his way to a poetry reading) that reminds me of Yeats’ description of himself, at 60, as an old scarecrow:

I had on my dead father’s overcoat, which was too large. My pants were too long, the cuffs came down over the shoes and that was good because my stockings didn’t match, and my shoes were down at the heels. I hated barbers so I cut my own hair when I couldn’t get a woman to do it. I didn’t like to shave and I didn’t like long beards, so I scissored myself every two or three weeks. My eyesight was bad but I didn’t like glasses so I didn’t wear them except to read. I had my own teeth but not that many. My face and my nose were red from drinking and the light hurt my eyes so I squinted through tiny slits. I would have fit into any skid row anywhere. Continue reading Women by Charles Bukowski – Love in the Face of Mortality

John Edward Lawson’s Discouraging at Best: A View of the National Id

Discouraging at Best by John Edward LawsonReading John Edward Lawson’s Discouraging at Best is like watching the Marx Bros. directed by Wes Craven. It’s a series of snapshots of American life in which the national id is hanging out for all to see, where every character is a caricature of our worst views of each other, and all traces of plot take a back seat to the punchlines. Continue reading John Edward Lawson’s Discouraging at Best: A View of the National Id

Agnes Owens’ Like Birds in the Wilderness – The Kids Aren’t Alright

Like Birds in the Wilderness, by Agnes OwensAgnes Owens’ Like Birds in the Wilderness (now available in Agnes Owens: The Complete Novellas) is about a 23-year-old working class kid in Scotland named Mac, who faces shut doors, hard times and bureaucratic indifference no matter which way he turns. He falls in love with a 23-year-old typist from a slightly higher level of the working class and has to figure out how to keep her while fighting off anxiety, depression and alcoholism and stubbornly groping his way to his own code of morality. Continue reading Agnes Owens’ Like Birds in the Wilderness – The Kids Aren’t Alright

Harold Jaffe’s JESUS COYOTE and the Purposes of the Manson Myth

Jesus Coyote by Harold JaffeHarold Jaffe’s “docufiction” Jesus Coyote is (as pointed out by Maya Yin in an Amazon review) a Rashomon-like presentation of the August 1969 Manson murders. It uses fictional newspaper clips, police memos, and interviews with the Manson character (“Jesus Coyote”), members of his Family (“the Tribe”), and the Family’s victims (dead and alive) to explore the myth-making process at both the personal and societal levels. Continue reading Harold Jaffe’s JESUS COYOTE and the Purposes of the Manson Myth