32 Before 32 ~ Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

I’m not sure how good an idea it was to put two book challenges on my 32 Before 32 list, bearing in mind how late I left it to complete my A-Z challenge last year. But each challenge only comprises twenty books, so it shouldn’t be too hard! I’ve already made a start on my non-fiction goal, and now I’ve read the first book from 1982.

I have found a couple of lists of books published in 1982, and I was lucky enough to find one of them in a charity shop. I picked up Ham on Rye not really knowing what to expect, having never read any Bukowski before.

Ham On Rye it’s a semi-autobiographical novel based loosely on Bukowski’s own formative years. It tells the story of Henry Chinaski, an alter-ego that Bukowski evidently used in a number of his novels.

There’s no real plot here, as such, just a sort of coming-of-age story about, essentially, an angry young man. He seems to have had a lot to be angry about; his father was abusive, his mother was acquiescent in the abuse, and he suffered from severe acne as a teenager that caused him various social problems. There are definite comparisons to be drawn between the Henry of this novel and the Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, and not just because they have the same initials; Henry is as disgusted with what he sees as the superficiality of the middle classes. The difference here is that it could probably be argued that Henry has far more justification for being angry at the world; growing up in depression-era America and with a father who regularly beats and humiliates him, he ends up resenting most of the people he comes into contact with.

I gave this book four stars when I rated it on Goodreads, and I have to say that I did really enjoy it, and thought it was very well written, but the world of Henry Chinaski is not necessarily one that I want to dip my toe into again. Charles Bukowski is just slightly too misanthropic and angry at the world for me to consider any of his other work.

One down, nine to go on number one of 32 Before 32 – read ten books from 1982.

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