Saturday, February 25, 2012

Books: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A co-worker and I always talk about Bukowski and Tom Waits (they just seem to go together, don't they?) I'd read a bit of Bukowski's poetry in college and liked it but was always put off by his unrepentant view of drinking and alcoholism. I was looking for something off the beaten path to read so I picked up this book along with some Jim Thompson (how about that combo!) while growing a bookstore in Princeton. An independent bookstore - the horror! But they have an in with the University, so maybe they're not so independent after all. This book begins with Bukowski (who really did work for the postal service) hungover and trying to drag himself into a job. He's a mail carrier. (John Prine was a mail carrier. So was Charles Mingus. I really liked the mailman who used to have my route. He died last year. When I was growing up, our mailman was a survivor of Pearl Harbor. The newspaper would interview him every year on the anniversary of the attack.) Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, stumbles (literally) into a part time substitute position that sends him all over the city with wild and often hysterical adventures involving wild dogs, seductive women, and a catastrophic flood that swamps his mail truck. All the while he is boozing full time and living it up with a floozy. The second half of the book shifts after the floozy walks out on him, and he lands a full time job sorting mail. Anyone who has ever held a municipal or government job will immediately recognize the kinds of crazed co-workers and sadistic bosses he describes. His alter character, Chinaski, gets wildly unstable, nearly burning the post office down (one of the funniest parts of the book) and having a string of luck at the racetrack that sees him eating at four-star restaurants. His luck fails after his latest girlfriend gives birth to his child and then abruptly leaves him. He falls into an alcoholic tailspin that seems to have no chance of reversal. Despite the dodgy subject matter, much of the book was actually quite funny, and was written with genuine imagination and wit. I was only a lengthy section of faux (or perhaps real) disciplinary letters from the postal service that things started to skid. Bukowski once wrote a story or anecdote where the protagonist rips a huge concrete phallus off of a statue and jams it through somebody's mailbox as revenge. It's hysterical. It's also not here. Try to find it though, it's a prime example of Bukowski's dark, mordant wit. Post office -

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