I don't like to use terms like tour de force, but really there is
no other description which comes to mind when considering Martin Amis's
astounding book Time's Arrow. A story told in reverse, where effect
is cause and cause effect. The simple premise of telling a story faithfully
in reverse, starting with death and ending with birth, yields achingly poetic
descriptions and opens a whole can of metaphysical worms. What's most amazing
is the degree of suspense in wanting to know where the protagonist (a tragic
figure) was before he got to where he ended up. This book will fascinate
anyone who's ever run films in reverse for the pleasure of watching water
run uphill and bullets being sucked into guns.
Ham on Rye
There is not a single mention of ham, rye, or ham on rye in this book, so
if that's what you want, go to a deli. What you will find are autobiographical
reminiscences dating from Bukowski's first memories when he was two or so
in 1922 Germany to December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy due
to Buk's stunning defeat at the hands of an 8-year-old Mexican boy. Is this
fiction? It hardly seems so, but Bukowski himself reveals how he learned
the secret after being praised for a 4th grade essay in which he imagined
having gone to see President Hoover speak: "So, that'swhat they wanted: lies.
Beautiful lies. That's what they needed. People were fools. It was going
to be easy for me." Lies these may be, but it didn't seem easy for Bukowski.
Growing up was a relentless sequence of beatings, humiliations, and
hospitalization. His only solace: books and alcohol. Many of these episodes
are related in his poetry (particularly in the posthumous collections) and
it's interesting to note the factual consistency. The key difference is that
the prose renditions are often laugh out loud funny. Grim situations are
made humorous through understatement and blithe observation of human nature.
It is art without artifice. Bukowski is just a guy who had the guts to be
honest with himself and used words to understand and share his experience.
An autobiographical novel by America's most direct writer detailing the 15
years or so he spent working for the US Postal Service. Drinking, screwing,
and mail-sorting abound, described in an off-hand yet precise and hilarious
style that makes most other writers read like puke. The description
of the hospital birth of his illegitimate child is tragic in its simple adherence
to the facts of bureaucratized miracles. Goes down quicker than a chiliburger
and stays with you a lot longer. Also contains one of the best last lines
of any novel ever.
There's Lydia, Lilly, April, Dee Dee, Nicole, Mindy, and Laura. Joannna,
Tammie, Mercedes, Liza, and the two German girls who drop in unannounced:
Hilda and Gertrude. There's Cassie, Debra, Jessie, Iris, Valerie, Valencia,
Sara, and Tonya. They are students, pick-ups, groupies, trueloves, and casual
encounters--the women of the title....
[ read full review ]
[ reviews of poetry by Bukowski ]
Too Loud a Solitude
A lyrical first-person account of a bibliophile who spends his days
compacting books in a dank basement of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia. Deftly
translated by Michael Henry Heim (who translated
The Unbearable Lightness of Being into English),
this book is touching in its simplicity and grand in its implications. The
oppression and censorship which keep our hero behind in his labors takes
a back seat to the joy he derives from the select books he is able to salvage
from the press and the colorful cast of characters who come to call on him
in his sweaty cellar.
I used to assign this book to my English students because its easily
digestible standalone chapters made for easy and entertaining reading. It's
also a tiny book, perfect for carrying in one's pocket for quick little impromptu
reads at bus stops and bank lines. Framed as the dreams Einstein might have
had while formulating his theory of relativity, the vignettes are as poetic
and humane as they are philosophically intriguing. Lightman, a professor
of physics at MIT, rifs on different possibilities of the structure of time
by couching the mindbending postulations in mundane contexts, deftly balancing
theoretical physics with human interest. More than an intellectual exercise,
it is a strangely consoling book which calls into question our preconceptions
of the inflexibility, linearity, and irreversibility of time. So much so
that it's the one book I gave my mother when she was diagnosed with cancer.