Dallas' Book Report: Post Office By Charles Bukowski
By Charles Bukowski
A story about a curmudgeonly, no-nonsense postal worker? And his favorite past-times are going to a racetrack, drinking rum and coke, and having sex with nymphomaniacal women who have huge rumps? Sign me up! I have a soft spot in my little black heart for characters in fiction who view the world with a vaseline covered lens, a grimy perspective. Post Office is a rough, crude, and pessimistic work of cynical humor that speaks to the grump in all of us.
Our anti-hero of the story is named Henry Chinaski. Bukowski modeled the booze bag of a mailman after himself, working several years for the United States Postal Service—and the frustration of the system shows throughout the work. What makes Post Office engaging is the fact the Bukowski understands the pain that the working man goes through and buffers that pain with dry, sometimes even deadpan dark comedy. For anyone who has worked in labor, a desk job, customer service, or at any establishment dependent on dealing with “the public,” the struggle is real. For those who spout the axiom of “put on a happy face,” Bukowski plants his feet firmly into the floor, and with a frown and middle finger exclaims, screw you! There is no sacrosanct line that Bukowski does not cross. Everything from the ridiculousness of work, unreasonable bosses, failed marriages, alcoholism, gambling addiction, and sexual deviancy are explored with a sly smile and jabbing, pointy finger. Henry is the derisive anti-hero we all deserve, but do not need. And because the writing is curt, to the point, and darkly funny—he is all the more engaging because of it, said to us through his flagrant, first-person view.
Post Office works for the first one hundred pages of the book, at least.
The downside to Bukowski's writing is that the roll-your-eyes, “look what the man does to ya,” I-hate-my-life prose, is that it grates on the reader after a while. In all fairness, since this is a semi-autobiographical story, Bukowski was crooning about his exploits at his soul-sucking postal job. But what would have worked better as a book with a little over one hundred pages, was padded out to over two hundred. Post Office would have been an excellent novella instead. The drinking, casual sex, and blue-collar down-on-your-luck, point of view of Henry becomes flatline and stale. This is not an indictment of stories that talk about the plight of the working man, but other ones have done it better. I prefer my cynical humor also have a silver lining to it, as contradictory as that may seem. Give our hero something to look forward to, or some eureka moment, which makes the readers head nod in enthusiastic approval—even if small. The rinse and repeat pessimism of Post Office gets old rather quick.
Scathing, bitingly funny, at times grating, but never letting up; Post Office is a sometimes engaging ride. Through the dark clouds—rain or shine—Chinaski slovenly proclaims, “fuck you, here's your mail” to every homeowner he meets.
Your mail truck mileage may vary.