Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tales of Ordinary Madness - Charles Bukowski

1983; 238 pages. Genre : Modern Literature; Short Stories. Overall Rating : 4½*/10.
Tales of Ordinary Madness consists of 34 short stories and essays penned by Bukowski in the 1967-72 period, mostly for various underground and adult magazines. A majority of the entries are told in the first person, starring either Bukowski himself, or one of his alter egos - Henry Chinaski and Dan Skorski.
What's To Like...
Short stories are a nice middle-ground for Bukowski. He can develop a theme more fully than in a poem, and he's not locked into the semi-autobiographical confines of his five novels. A lot of these stories are still told as if they come from Bukowski's life, but I suspect they are more wishful thinking than fact. The style is in-your-face, with lots of cusswords and "adult themes". Remember, he was writing these to amuse and titillate magazine readers.
The themes can get repetitive, especially in the first half of the book. Sex, booze, smokes, playing the horses, booze, sex, more booze, despising people who come to hear him read his poetry, booze, sex, smokes, hitting on some host's wife, hangovers, smokes, sex, booze, etc.
Bukowski is at his best when he's writing commentary (see "Notes on the Pest") and non- pseudo-auto-biographical stories (see "A .45 to Pay the Rent"). Also, the fantasy story "Animal Crackers in my Soup" is superb.
Alas, there's a lot of paste among the gems. Bukowski had great insight and humor, and was a gifted writer when he wanted to be. But it seems too often he was writing drivel - either because of the booze or just to see if the public could tell the difference.
Kewl New Words...
Voluting : Coiling (here, a woman's derriere as she's walking by). Involute : Complex, intricate; involved. Luxated : Dislocated (here, a luxated neck). Letch (verb) : To grasp on to something. Oh yeah, Factotum showed up again. Cue "Twilight Zone" theme music.
"Look, can I use your phone?" Mad Jimmy asked.
"Yes, it's local."
"Make sure it's local. I almost killed four guys the other night. Chased them all through town in my car. Finally, they pulled over. I parked behind them, cut the engine. I didn't realize they still had theirs running. When I got out, they pulled off. Very disappointing. By the time I got rolling, they were out of sight."
"They made a long distance call on your phone?"
"No, I didn't know them. It was another matter." (pg. 20)
"either you work the overtime as the others do or you're out of a job, Skorski."
"then I'm out of a job, Blackstone."
"I've got a good mind not to pay you."
"State Labor Board."
"we'll mail you your check." (pg. 90)
unlike you, the pest has hours of time to shoot through the head. and all his ideas are contrary to yours but he never knows this because he is continually talking and even when you get a chance to disagree, the pest does not hear. he really never hears your voice. it is just a vague area of break to him, then he continues his dialogue, and while the pest continues on you wonder how he ever got his dirty little snout into your soul... (pg. 194. I work with one of these).
did you ever consider that lsd and color tv arrived for our consumption about the same time? (pg. 200).
If you're new to reading Bukowski, you may find TOOM shockingly refreshing. If you're a Bukoholic, you will not be disappointed. But if you're somewhere in between, the reading can be a tedious chore, especially in the first half.
The stories in the second half show more variety and are more entertaining. Which is a pity, because a lot of readers will have probably bailed by then. I give Tales of Ordinary Madness 4½ stars, because there is some good stuff here. But it's a bit too little and a bit too late.

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