Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski: A Review!

Well. It’s certainly been an interesting week. Not just for the Americans, but for every onlooker around the world. So in the theme of watching from the sidelines here’s my review on Ham on Rye.

We follow Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical story through the eyes of character Henry Chinaski. Henry tells us of all his escapades from infancy: we learn of his upbring – an abusive father sits as the head of his household and his victim mother who often tries to simply keep the house together. As Henry grows up, we grow with him from childhood, through the Great Depression, into young adulthood. We see that Henry struggles to form his own identity while discovering women, alcohol, and many other shining prospects that could distract a youth.

Ham on Rye was easily one oft he most difficult reads for me of this year. After purchasing it in May, I was very excited to read it. But Bukowski’s style of writing irked me with his honesty. Normally in other stories, narrators would attempt to be overtly witty – much to the displeasure of its readers. Henry Chinaski refuses to adhere to this style, and instead witnesses very hard truths. For example, his thoughts on life are haunting, but ring true:

“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they slice a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A while god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.”

We see a character who has had his liveliness and excitement as a child marauded by the relentless beatings and discouragement from his father, and his own views of the world twisted to reflect his own father’s outlook.  Ham on Rye is a tale of uncomfortable truths, and because of that it will stay close to my heart.

What books have you had trouble reading?

Let me know!



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