The novels and poetry of Charles Bukowski continue to have devoted, admiring fans, who can never get enough of his books. We have those books in hard copy, and there is a good representation in Overdrive: The Charles Bukowski Fiction Collection and Charles Bukowski.
German by birth, as a young boy Bukowski was taunted for his origins and accent, for his physical appearance (a severe case of acne that left his face visibly scarred) and his clothing. He grew up with a physically and verbally abusive father. Excessive alcohol use dulled the pain but illuminated a life of writing. Bukowski graduated from Los Angeles High School, attended Los Angeles City College, and worked many blue-collar jobs. During World War II he spent several days in prison for draft evasion, failed the psychological test required for military service, and was given a 4-F.
In so many ways Bukowski’s life was miserable and had all the markings for him to become some type of criminal. He found a form of reconciling his personal life by writing, where he could vent his anger and fury. Do not even think about political correctness, let alone kindness in his work. Even his poetry book about cats, creatures he loved, is at times tinged with hard-edged nastiness.
He is among other tough-guy writers whose works rage with hostility and discontent, but offer insights into what life is like for those who are outsiders—always on the edge. Like Bukowski, they had dreadful lives: childhood bullying, abusive family treatment with authoritarian fathers, getting by on zilch, drug and alcohol addictions, immigrants with minimal schooling, and quite a few experienced war-time military service.
The books are not quite gangster or sociopathic, but verge on those themes. Some writing has more literary appeal, but all of the books are honest and true in how deprivation, desolation, and anger are represented in stories about people’s lives. These books are not for everyone. The men who wrote them are able to present readers with an awareness of life that is hopeless, out of control and teetering on disaster.
If some of you thought Ernest Hemingway was one tough dude, forget it, his writing style and subject matter are lyrical compared to the books of others who wrote on the wild side: Nelson Algren, William Burroughs, Harry Crews, James Ellroy, John Fante, Jean Genet, Jim Harrison, Bohumil Hrabal, James Jones, Danilo Kiš, Cormac McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Thompson, Andrew Vachss.