Pulp by Charles Bukowski

For newcomers to the world of Charles Bukowski, be forewarned: Pulp (Ecco, 202 pages) is probably not the best place to start.

I say this, not because it doesn’t rank right up there with his other books, or because greener readers will fail to grasp the allusions to earlier work it contains, but rather because as his ultimate novel (completed months before his death) Pulp can easily be seen as Bukowski’s final farewell. In it, the aged author takes his readers on one last foray into familiar territories of sex, madness, and death, while at the same time expanding on those themes in brilliant and often unexpected ways. Drawing on science fiction and hardboiled noir elements as well, the end result is a bizarre send-up of genre fiction that is just as hilarious and insightful as anything else he wrote. Continue reading

Bob the Gambler by Frederick Barthelme

The night after I finished this book I found myself before a slot machine in a small casino. I had a feeling and put a quarter in. I won and won again. I stuffed the quarters in my pockets but there were no buckets available. When I lost two quarters in a row I left. Unfortunately this was a dream and I awoke empty handed. Bob the Gambler (Mariner Books, 224) is a beautifully observed, enviably perfect novel by a master who doesn’t seem flashy because he stays within his means. It is also a surprisingly, even surreally loving story. The novel centers around the fissioned nuclear family of down-on-his luck Biloxi architect Ray Kaiser, a plump transplant moved by the Mississippi coastal decay before it was invaded by “gussied-up Motel 6 hotel Continue reading