Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review of "More Notes of a Dirty Old Man"

     The view from below often carries a certain amount of filth. But even this filth can be seen as fertilizer for something to grow. Charles Bukowski’s view of the world came from the bottom. And in that view were the basest aspects of life that drove a person forward. More Notes of a Dirty Old Man stands as a collection of fiction, anecdotes, and semi-autobiographical columns written by Bukowski over much of his life. It certainly is not for the weak-minded or the ordinary.

     More Notes of a Dirty Old Man carries a stark portrait of human life, specifically Bukowski’s. Often this is seen through his literary alter-ego Henry Chinaski, who as a character somehow manages to pull of being completely boorish and charming, if only in a rough, roguish sort of way. Some of the encounters are fiercely comical, like the story where Chinaski goes home with a middle-age woman on the promise of $75 and free booze that then makes him dress up in children’s style-clothing. There are darker elements to the character, the Freudian id if you want to use a psychology term. This id persona has no problem engaging in brawls and ravishing attractive, middle-aged women, actions which I don’t condone but nonetheless find engaging to read. This connection to the darker side of human activity is given a mundane veneer, as if the protagonist is simply enjoying the moment and forgetting the enjoyment a second later.
     Much of the force of More Notes of a Dirty Old Man lies in the inherent weakness of people to grasp who they are. The characters in these stories, including Bukowski himself, are half-mad but still part of the world. Every moment in the stories feels lived in, from the dive apartment complexes to the race tracks to the bars and diners. Even the faceless masses have an overriding presence in the background, a mindless, soulless herd that the author must wade through daily in order to simply exist.
     This is not to say that Bukowski’s writing has no weaknesses of its own. The repetitiveness of the stories and the content can be grating to readers. As noted above, the characters in the story engage in activities which many will find distasteful, if not downright immoral. To some, this book will be filled with nothing more than the drunken ramblings of a misanthropic Neanderthal. To others, they will read someone who speaks the words they themselves wish they had the temerity to speak. Others still will focus on the overwhelming libidinous aspects of the stories, choosing to focus only on the perceived perversion in the author’s views on sex and human coupling.
     Ultimately, More Notes of a Dirty Old Man is definitely recommended, especially to those who have never read any of Bukowski’s poetry or fiction. These essays and stories give a more complete picture of the author who saw the world from the bottom of Skid Row than the fiction or poetry does. Start with this book and then I would recommend Ham on Rye, which is a fictionalized portrait of the author’s teenage years. Or if you enjoy poetry try out Pleasures of the Damned, one of his many volumes.    

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