I came to Post Office with no prior ideas about Bukowski’s work. It was one of those situations in a secondhand bookshop where you find something by an author whose name you recognise, possibly one that you made a mental note about reading someday, but can’t recall why their name is familiar. One day I’ll get organised like some of my customers are with their lists!
This all means that, viz Post Office, I’m either not up to speed, or lucky in not having any baggage – or maybe a bit of both. The novel is the monologue of a US Postal Service worker recounting his life and work. It’s an autobiographical novel that draws on Bukowski’s time as a postal worker. This appealed to me as someone who had previously worked for Royal Mail and a private freight carrier in the UK. It also appeals at a time when celebrities dominate the sales of autobiographies. The idea that the life and work of a postal worker is just as worthy of being read as anyone in the public eye is something that will resonate with some and be scoffed at by others.
What I can say from experience is that the life and vocabulary of Bukowski’s narrator have a believability to them. The life portrayed is sometimes larger than life, leaving you wondering if it’s all a bit of exaggeration to dress up otherwise mundane narrative, or perhaps just something everybody does in that front / back of house version of the self that Goffman wrote about. Tall tales about gambling, for example, are a common feature of blue-collar storytelling. In this, Bukowski avoided a middle-class, highly educated style of internal monologue and reflection that is often grafted onto all sorts of inappropriate novel characters, including children. Yet mixed in with the tall tales are the daily moans of someone downtrodden and with no sense of their future. Here the smallness is magnified to epic proportions, tinging Post Office with a dignified sense of the tragic.
The novel is an unusual find in a secondhand bookshop. This makes it worth a look while it’s there because many provincial libraries are unlikely to stock it, making the cost of ordering through inter-library loan potentially uneconomical – given the low-rent subject matter, there was something appropriate to my finding a tatty copy going for just £1. It’s a short and fast-paced read that will interest anyone who likes unsentimental yet poignant fiction.
Recent posts of interest elsewhere:
L.Clark has blogged about Bukowski’s Ham on Rye.
Matthew J. Stanford has blogged about Factotum.
Extract from page 20:
It was one of those continuous rains, not hard, but it never stopped. The territory I was driving was new to me but at least it was light enough to read the clipboard. But as it got darker it was harder to read (by the dashboard light) or locate the pickup boxes. Also the water was rising in the streets, and several times I had stepped into water up to my ankles.
Then the dashboard light went out. I couldn’t read the clipboard. I had no idea where I was. Without the clipboard I was like a man lost in the desert. But the luck wasn’t all bad—yet. I had two boxes of matches and before I made for each new pickup box, I would light a match, memorize the directions and drive on. For once, I had outwitted Adversity, that Jonstone up there in the sky, looking down, watching me.
Then I took a corner, leaped out to unload the box and when I got back the clipboard was GONE!
Jonstone in the Sky, have Mercy! I was lost in the dark and the rain. Was I some kind of idiot, actually? Did I make things happen to myself? It was possible. It was possible that I was subnormal, that I was lucky just to be alive.
The clipboard had been wired to the dashboard. I figured it must have flown out of the truck on the last sharp turn. I got out of the truck with my pants rolled up around my knees and started wading through a foot of water. It was dark. I’d never find the god damned thing!