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Dear C̶h̶a̶r̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶B̶u̶k̶o̶w̶s̶k̶i̶ Henry Chinaski,
Jesus Christ, to think that I was a step away from never reading this whirlwind of a coming-of-age story of yours in the first place. We got off on the wrong foot in the stupidest way possible a few years ago. It was all my fault, though. I owe you an apology. And an explanation.
Long story short, the first Chinaski chronicle that came into my life was Women, but a translated version. A flat, lackluster, completely unrepresentative translation that left me wondering why the hell I wasn’t freaking out over an author I knew I should have been head-over-heels in love with.
A friend urged me to try reading your work in its original form, and that changed everything. You now hold an undisputed spot on my literary podium, just like you should have. The rest is history.
So, the moral of this awkward but relevant backstory? I pray that everyone reading this will steer clear of any translations and honor your American lowlife masterpieces by reading them exactly how you laid them on paper.
Now, let bygones be bygones, I hope, and let’s dissect this fucked up bildungsroman that had me wolfing down page after page at the most questionable hours.
Henry, I wish I could go back in time, back when you were just a kindergartener and before I was even born, just to hug you.
It wouldn’t have changed your poisonous home environment. It wouldn’t have made your father a Father. But it might have made you realize that you were loved. That you were a gifted child who had a way with words before he could even put pen to paper. That you were enough.
I think you needed that.
“I felt that even the sun belonged to my father, that I had no right to it because it was shining upon my father’s house. I was like his roses, something that belonged to him and not to me…”
I would have swapped your father’s merciless razor strop and the mindless beatings that accompanied it with notebooks and pencils. To make you relive that one triumphant essay-reading moment from the 5th grade every day, whether you were in class or in your bedroom:
“My words filled the room, from blackboard to blackboard, they hit the ceiling and bounced off, they covered Mrs. Fretag’s shoes and piled up on the floor. (…) I drank in my words like a thirsty man. I even began to believe them.”
I would have showered you with books long before you stumbled into the La Cienga Public Library in high school. To help you understand from the fragile age you needed to that:
“Words weren’t dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.”
I would have waved a wand and found a permanent cure for your life-scarring boils. For your untimely plunge into alcohol-driven self-medication. For the Great Depression that fucked up your family dynamics to begin with.
I wish I could, but I can’t do any of this. The only thing I can do is absorb, and exude, and honor your truth. Because, like you said, “When someone else’s truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you, that’s great.”
You, Henry Chinaski, were the anti-hero. The broken kid who used snarky remarks as a coping mechanism, and the “tough guy” teen who just wanted to belong. The dysfunctional and defiant anti-hero, who would mature into one of the greatest American anti-heroes of all time.
But you’re my hero. And nobody can take that away from either of us.
Forever your faithful reader,
Literary Love Letters is a series of unconventional book reviews in which I share my reading experience by addressing the main character of the novel directly. If my love letter for Chinaski/Bukowski spoke to you, spread the word about Ham on Rye. Share this with someone who needs to read it.