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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Charles Bukowski HOT WATER MUSIC. Black Sparrow Press, 1983 (221 pages).

I have closely read this collection of 36 short stories twice over the last year and consider it an excellent and under-rated book in the Bukowski canon. It was first published in 1983 and is sandwiched between his novel Ham on Rye (1982) and his poetry collection War All the Time: Poems 1981-1984 (1984).

You can learn a lot about writing by studying this book. How to pare it down. How to create a credible working class or down & out classic. How to spice it up through a romp or fisticuff. How to make your story unpredictable and to engage the reader's imagination. No doubt you need to have the creative juices of stories coursing thru your veins of experience to begin with.

Here is a brief synopsis of some of the better stories:

YOU KISSED LILLY. While watching television, Margaret, a 50 year old is reminded of Lilly who kissed her husband Theodore five years ago. She pulls out a gun and shoots him in the chest. They have a domestic argument as the blood drains out of him.

DECLINE AND FALL. At the Hungry Diamond Mel relates to the bartender Carl a bizarre story told to her by Al which involves a couple who likes strangers to watch them have sex and which also later involves the cannibalism of a hitch-hiker.

HAVE YOU READ PIRANDELLO? The narrator Henry Chinaski is forced to move out of his girlfriend’s large comfortable house and he hilariously responds to a variety of share accommodation ads.

STROKES TO NOWHERE. Tony drops off his wife Dolly at the airport. As Tony and his friend Meg finally are doing it “slowly and steadily like the arm of an oil pump. Flub, flub, flub, flub,” Meg’s brother Damion materializes on the top of the bed and chastises his sister.

SCUM GRIEF. Chinaski attends a poetry reading of the poet Victor Valoff with his girlfriend Vicki. As Valoff reads his obscure stuff Chinaski translates what he means in a hilarious, punishingly satirical way.

A MAN WHO LOVED ELEVATORS. This is a sexually explicit story about Harry who likes banging anonymous women in lifts.

TURKEYNECK MORNING. This is a third person story which poignantly examines the falling out of love between the horny Barney and the recalcitrant Shirley.

HOW TO GET PUBLISHED. This is a loosely veiled attempt to fictionalize his visit to the Owens in New Orleans who were the publishers of Bukowski's first major book.

THE DEATH OF THE FATHER I. Great opening line, “My father’s funeral was a cold hamburger.” This is Bukowski’s story of hate for his old man. He fucks his old man’s girlfriend Maria after the funeral.

BROKEN MERCHANDISE. Frank, a shipping clerk, has an unsatisfactory relationship with his girlfriend Fran. A moment of road rage provides him with “a small victory after a horrible day”.

HOME RUN. Benny beats a barkeep with a baseball bat who short-changes him forty bucks.

FOOLING MARIE. Ted picks up a slender, big breasted woman at the race track. She has some surprises for him.

As you can see from some of these crazy storylines, Bukowski is a highly imaginative short story writer. Although he often writes about his personal experiences, his best stuff begins realistically but then morphs off to other realms which are more difficult to peg down in a rational way.

It is interesting to note that in his recent book Charles Bukowski (2012), David Stephen Calonne does not mention the collection, nor does Barry Miles in his Charles Bukowski (2005).Howard Sounes in his excellent Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life only makes a passing reference to the book in one sentence.