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Ham On Rye

book summary


The title of this novel, Ham On Rye, in my opinion, fits this story well. Charles Bukowski chose a very blunt way to tell write this story, no beating around the bush, just plain ham on rye. I didnt know what to expect picking up this book for the first time, but quickly learned that Bukowski has a very real way of explaining things.
One thing I liked most was how he vividly described the childhood of the main character, Henry. Having the story set in the era of the Great Depression set a very somber mood for me. Im sure Henry's childhood did not differ much from how real children suffered through the depression. The strict code by which many people lived by in this story made it almost seem like it was not fiction and instead, a documentary. I felt that Henry himself did a pretty good job dealing with life despite the fact that he had an abusive father, few possessions of his own and the lack of sentimental attention.
Henrys father is a whole different chapter in the book, so to say. He went about life in his own miserable way, despising his job, sleeping around, and trying to raise a child at the same time. He occasionally tried to teach Henry different lessons of life but always did it in a harsh and insensitive way. I personally think that his lessons were very unbalanced. He never seemed to appreciate anything Henry ever did and even if he did, it wasnt mentioned. I also got the impression that his mother sometimes seemed to feel sorry for Henry but was always cut down, or abused by her husband. All of this I guess I could describe as sort of a cliff hanger. I wanted so badly for Henry to be appreciated in some way or shown some kind of unconditional love, but this never happened.
The era, in which this story took place, was a non-materialistic one. People werent judged so much on what kind of car they have, what clothes they wear or what the latest trend was. Many of these people were just glad to eat a little something everyday and to make what little money they possibly could. This is part of the reason why I felt I could somewhat relate to this book. I am not a materialistic person and do not judge people on what they possess. Granted I do drive a car and have more than one pair of shoes, I dont revolve my life on these sorts of items
Another way I felt I related to Henry in particular was how he always had sympathy for the underdog. He befriended people that the other kids didnt. He looked past their handicaps or weirdness and focused on their actual being. When I was in 6th grade or so, I made friends with a couple girls who were not in the in group. I, by choice, was not in the in crowd because most of those people seemed very shallow and materialistic. I think my feeling a little sorry for these girls had something to do with our friendship but certainly wasnt the entire reason. We had fun and had some really good laughs and I got to know them for who they really were and not just their outward appearance.
Overall, this book this was a pull you in and spit you out type of book but a very good one. I can see how it may have been a little too real for people but thats the way the cookie crumbles.