CHARLES BUKOWSKI by Howard Sounes

CHARLES BUKOWSKI

Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A soberly investigated picaresque life of the barfly author of Notes of a Dirty Old Man. For those critics who felt that Bukowski buddy Neeli Cherkovski’s colorful but less than rigorous Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski (1991) lacked objective distance, London journalist Sounes has enough to offset his hero-worship of the womanizing, dipsomaniacal, down-and-out poet-novelist. Bukowski is probably best known from his self-portrait of an alcoholic in the movie Barfly, but his almost lifelong problems with alcohol, money, women, an abusive father, and a menial job at the post office never slowed a prolific output of poems, short stories, and novels. With such a disreputably mythic author, whose works are both transparently autobiographical and scabrously candid, this book’s task is not to dig up dirt on the subject, but to find out which dirt is the real dirt. Sounes, whose previous book, the true crime Fred & Rose (not reviewed), detailed a respectable married couple’s mass killings, steadies stories of Bukowski’s outrageous antics (getting beer cans thrown at him during a boozy poetry reading, for instance) with the dogged journalistic work of tracing paper trails, from public records to Bukowski’s correspondence and unpublished writing, and interviewing his surviving family, friends, colleagues, and ex-girlfriends. Some (self-perpetuated) myths are brought down quickly, such as Bukowski’s illegtimacy. Other revelations give more substance to the Bukowski legend, such as how careful he was in fact with his money even when playing the horses, how dedicated he was to his writing even when he couldn’t hold down a steady job during the “barfly” years, and how close he really was to being fired when he finally quit the post office to write full-time. Despite its often fannish tone, a biography that listens to Bukowski’s all-night barroom anecdotes and then checks the facts the morning after. (b&w photos and illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8021-1645-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999




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