I was planning to get loads of reading done on my holidays but a migraine struck and lasted several days so it derailed my plans. But it was my birthday while we were away and boyfriend bought me ‘Post Office’ by Charles Bukowski. Not sure why he picked it, I haven’t read any of his other books but it’s an American beat classic which was fitting for our visit to USA.
The main character is Charles Chinaski, and the plot seems losely based on Bukowski’s own life, which made it all the more depressing. Chinaski gets a horrible job with the Post Office, working 12 hour shifts with unrealistic targets, and a hateful boss. But he has a life of drinking and gambling to pay for. He stays up drinking until 2am, then gets to work at 5am. He spends much of his time having casual sex with random women.
The one part of the book that I was unsure about, was where it got a bit rapey. Rapey may be a flippant word to describe horrible sexual assaults, and ‘it’s a grey area’ is used far too much imo to dismiss rape accusations but… It was a weird scene, where a women comes out half naked to get her letter and he follows her inside to get a signature. He wants to leave but she blocks his path, then strikes out at him scratching his face. He suddenly grabs her breasts and starts kissing her forcibly.
‘Rape! Rape! I’m being raped!’
She was right. I got her pants down, unzipped my fly, got it in, then walked her backwards to the couch. We fell down on top of it.
She lifted her legs high.
‘RAPE!’ she screamed.
It makes me feel uncomfortably again when I look at it, and the casual way it’s included in the book. The woman’s behaviour up to that point is strange, and the description suggests she is complicit in what happens but…It hit me after reading another book, ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ by Rebecca Solnit who talks a lot about the male sense of entitlement. That men feel that are entitled to pretty much everything, including women’s bodies, and if they are rejected they will rape and take it by force. Bukowski wrote this book in 1971, when second wave feminism was fighting against a slew of sexist nonsense. I think it was still legal to rape your wife at the time in California, although things were changing.
Even if you take out the particularly unpleasant scene above, Chinaski is still a self-entitled prick. He goes after women if he wants them, despite having girlfriends at the time, and doesn’t bother with women if he’s too tired from work. I’ve read many David Mitchell books, who has a knack for writing obnoxious characters. But they are written for us to largely dislike but ultimately find some humanity in. It bothers me in Post Office, because I assume Bukowski was probably similar to Chinaski who we can see as a low life, drunken, loser. But his attitude towards women is not really in question.*
I liked the book in the end. The depiction of a miserable existence, eking out a living with soul-destroying menial jobs is becoming more relevant these days. And it’s very different from the other books I read.
*There are some dubious, fleeting references to black and gay people, but much less in your face. I can easily see how people would now take offence to some of that too though.