I wrote last week about Ham on Rye as classic literature. I finished it and thought that it leaves a touch to be desired. Maybe because it is a coming of age story and the young man only begins to learn at the last page, but the protagonist is somewhat flat, and is barely redeemed by the story’s end. But Bukowski was ugly, poor, unloved, and he had nothing else. So of course his novels are going to represent that.
His poetry can more appropriately be canonized because you don’t see as much of the pornographic violence. He’s on to something when he talks about the scent of a beer-shit making you feel alive, but it’s not balanced with anything high.
Ultimately, though, Bukowski tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to wear Henry Miller’s crown. Miller’s is a different kind of writing entirely – one filled with joy instead of misery – and it makes for a more powerful, albeit a more difficult story.
That’s not to say that I rescind last week’s post about Bukowski as classic literature. I’d go so far as to say that he should be taught. But his shortcomings should be noted as what makes his name still so resonant.