Reading Ham on Rye is like sidling up to an old man in a bar and listening to him tell interesting anecdotes of his youth while you buy him beer after beer. As the pages turn, the fascinating world of the protagonist takes hold. I enjoyed everything about this book and found it interesting to hear stories from the Great Depression era that reveal the crudeness and sexuality of its inhabitants. Ham on Rye is thinly veiled autobiography, and proceeds first person anecdotally, tracing the childhood and early adulthood of Henry Chinaski. Some of the interesting dynamics involve the relationship between Henry and his father, Henry's budding sexuality, his strong independence, his exploits in various games and fistfights, and his wayward drunkenness in his late teens. Henry is obviously very bright, but his intelligence is offset by a sullenness and restless spirit that yearns for an extraordinary life beyond the slums of Los Angeles. Henry molds himself into a tough guy as a way to fulfill these urges, but has an aversion to joining the army as the story ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The star of this book is Henry's voice, which shines through the prose without a trace of adornment, thanks to Bukowski's direct style. This is my first experience with Bukowski's writing, and I would like to read some of his other work to get a fuller picture of this artist.