The Post Office by Charles Bukowski

I recently read The Post Office by Charles Bukowski, and I haven’t decided whether it is an ingenious work of dark comedy or an over-hyped hipster anthem (like Kerouac’s On The Road – don’t kill me).

The Post Office is narrated by Henry Chinaski, a drunk degenerate who works at the United States Postal Service as a carrier. He is constantly hungover at work, gambles too much in his spare time, dates flaky women, and spends the rest of his time drinking. His efforts in his employment as a mail carrier are characterized by his insistence on undertaking the bare minimum work and pushing the patience of his supervisors to the limit without getting fired.

He marries a wealthy woman 13 years younger at one point, but she divorces him because he is not enough of a gentleman, and released her parakeets into the wild because they were making too much noise and disrupted his sleep. He then knocks up an aging hippie, and is largely ambivalent when she leaves him and takes their child away to New Mexico. Chinaski is sometimes an abominable human being; in other instances one senses he is somewhat redeemable.

The books is humorous at times, and a bit dark when it comes to the obvious ennui and monotony of postal work and the people who endure it for decades. I enjoyed it, but did not find it particularly enlightening or compelling. The language is raw and mostly transparent, and I guess there was nothing in particularly that gripped me. I kept wondering where this whole thing was going, and never figured it out.

“Suddenly I had to sit down and shit. It was a good hot one.”

Notably, Bukowski was investigated and harassed by the FBI, possibly in connection with some of the revelations contained in this novel.  According to Bukowski.net, “In 1968 various branches of the U.S. government performed an investigation into the background of civil servant Charles Bukowski…Apparently the FBI and the Postal Service took offense to some of his writing…and had their ‘informants’ report Bukowski to higher-ups in the post office.”

Surely, Bukowski did the United States Postal Service no favors, and provided a special insight into the nonsensical bureaucracy and incompetence involved (those are some of the funniest parts). Even so, I don’t think the book remotely did such an injustice to warrant an FBI investigation, so I guess it just goes to show the FBI has always been full of a bunch of paranoid, meddling assholes.

So the guy shows up hungover at work constantly. But so did I, when I was 19 years old, as opposed to 36. At least he had his wrinkled carrier uniform on; I showed up at work hungover in the dress I wore out the night before. Perhaps this book is a glimpse of how my life would be at age 40 had I not abandoned my hedonistic ways.

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