The novel focuses on the protagonist, Henry Chinaski, between the years of 1920 and 1941.It begins with Chinaski’s early memories. As the story progresses the reader follows his life through the school years and into young adulthood. Chinaski relates that he has an abusive father, and his mother does nothing to stop his father’s abuse. She is, in fact, a victim of her husband’s brutality as well. Henry is not athletic but wants to be and therefore tries hard to improve. Football is difficult for him, but he enjoys the violence that comes with it. He has only slightly better results in baseball. As Chinaski progresses through grammar school, the focus of Henry’s attention is on sports, violence, and girls. As Henry grinds his way through Junior High School, he discovers the manifold pleasures of alcohol and masturbation. As Henry begins High School, his father, who is experiencing downward inter-generational socioeconomic mobility, makes him go to a private school where he fits in even less amongst all the well-heeled, spoiled rich kids with their flashy, colorful, convertible sports cars and beautiful girlfriends. To make matters worse, Chinaski develops horrible acne so severe that he has to undergo painful, and mostly ineffective, treatments, essentially becoming a human guinea pig for various experiments thought up by his uninterested doctors. The reader eventually follows Chinaski to college and reads of Henry’s attempt to find a worthwhile occupation.
Charles Bukowski’s fourth novel, Ham on Rye,is the semi- autobiographical story of the early years of his alter ego Henry Chinaski. It is a finely written and honest account of the painful childhood of a boy marked out from his peers.
Meet the young Hank Chinaski Ham On Rye focuses largely on Bukowski’s childhood, and it’s a moving tale that delves deep in to his troubled relationship with his bastard of a father, a man who used to beat him with his belt and subject him to a range of ‘punishments‘ which would amount to child abuse in our modern society.
That’s not to say that alcohol isn’t mentioned, though – in fact, you’ll discover the secret of the great poet’s first ever drink as he comes of age during the Great Depression in Los Angeles. It’s interesting to read his early memories, and slightly surprising that he can still remember them after years of wine and regret.
“Ham on Rye” isn’t necessarily centered on the abysmal state of the economy, as so many books set in that time period often are. It is an extremely honest book about being the outsider as a child but still manages to be funny in all the darkest ways.