Despite a myriad of poetry publications and book sales, Charles Bukowski is a name that is often excluded from Western literary canon. Critics have rebuked Bukowski as a misogynist, unsophisticated, distasteful and narcissistic. Even though these condemnations may very well be true, his work has stood the test of time for one reason alone: Bukowski is unabashadley himself. Although his methods may be lewd and crude, Charles Bukowski pours his own personal truths into every piece of his writing. “Ham on Rye” is no different, as Bukowski allows readers a murky glimpse into his formative years through the lens of his thinly veiled alter ego, “Henry Chinaski.”
This coming of age story is not for the faint of heart. Each is page dripping with profanity, masturbation, violence and booze. “Ham on Rye” recounts Bukowski’s rugged upbringing in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. From his abusive father who takes out his anger and disappointments on Henry and his mother with a razor strop, to the aggressive case of acne and boils that brand him an outcast during puberty and the sickening experimental treatments he undergoes to remove them, young Henry’s life is teeming with misfortune from the very start.
Although the novel careens from scene to scene, covering the most impressionable moments of his childhood without a semblance of traditional structure or plot, Bukowski touches upon a number of precarious topics. Some of the most prominent themes in “Ham on Rye” include disillusionment with the myth of the American Dream, the discrepancies between idealistic societal values and real life, and raging against the machine or system. Sometimes disgusting and almost always depressing, Bukowski’s coming of age novel demonstrates his incredibly sharp wit as he deconstructs and satirizes the plentiful hypocrisy he felt surrounded by growing up in early 1900s Los Angeles.
As you dejectedly ponder the flaws and falsities of society with Bukowski, a terrific bottle to wallow with is Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey. Although it may not seem like it to a broke college student, Bulleit is fairly affordable for such a full-bodied and flavorful bourbon, usually retailing for only slightly over $30. Bulleit Bourbon exudes a robust odor of oak, vanilla and honey, that somehow manages to smell both sweet and bitter. Despite being 90 proof, Bulleit is remarkably light for whiskey and has a surprisingly multifaceted flavor profile. Unlike most conventional bourbons, Bulleit incorporates a much higher percentage of rye, which not only ties back to the title of Bukowski’s novel, but also provides it with a spicy kick that is most pronounced when served neat. The powerful spice taste of Bulleit Bourbon is supplemented by woody oak tones and hint of darkly agreeable caramel. Just like Bukowski, this bourbon packs a punch and cannot be casually consumed in large gulps. It is best to take small sips at a time, and allow the biting taste to slowly flood your taste buds so as to not overwhelm your senses.