Friday, May 05, 2006

Run With the Hunted

I just finished Charles Bukowski's Run With the Hunted. It's a great anthology of this cultural icon's work that spans his entire career. Not all of Bukowski's work is deserving of the praise this pulp poet receives; in fact, some of his poetry reads like autobiographical grocery lists. But despite the underground status he has, Bukowski will probably never receive anything other than curious mention by the mainstream poetry critics. A really good article on Bukowski appeared in the New Yorker last year.

But after reading this thick retrospective, it makes me think of all the unlikable characters that crime writers need to create. I have to teach a seminar this July and I've chosen the subject of anti-heroes in noir fiction. Now this is a program where the majority of people are literary snobs and with a topic so generalized, I'm not expected too many people to show up. However, for the three people who will mistakenly walk into my lecture, I want to do a good job. I knew I needed to review some writing that would examine the less desirable characters in literature. When you read Bukowski you have to wonder why this material is so fascinating. Writing class after writing class they tell you that you need likable characters. That's bullshit. If you want likable, go watch Pollyanna; but for noir literature, you're going to read about some real creeps. It's the nature of the genre.


Sandra Ruttan said...

What I find incredible is anyone who balances the likeable and unlikeable within the same character.

Dennis Milne is a classic example. So wrong, yet... you can't help rooting for him.

I had a similar sensation watching the first two episodes of The Shield. I hated Vic, but then, I almost respected him. So conflicting and the characters who conflict you really impact you more, I think.

Another thing I like about The Wire - pretty much everyone's a royal fuck-up. It isn't simply good and bad. Prez is my favourite cop, shitbird that he is.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I was first exposed to Bukowsky (that sounds dirty, doesn't it?) in an undergrad poetry class. We read "The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills." I was hooked, and read through pretty much everything he had in print at the time. My favorites were the novels FACTOTUM and HAM ON RYE (one is a sequel to the other, I can't recall which though). His stuff was so raw and real. Here was a guy who cut through all the bullshit I was being taught in my writing classes.

One of the highlights of my college career was when Bukowski's widow gave me permission to reprint his poem "I Taste the Ashes of Your Death" in The Sandy River Review a few months after he died.

Steve Allan said...

Balancing characters is extremely hard to do, but a necessity in writing crime fiction. In some ways we can sympathize with Bukowski because we've all had our down moments; maybe not to the degree of where he has been, but for our own experiences, that down in the gutter feeling is as equal to the lower depth of Bukowski's.

Ray said...

Funny you should mention the noir aspect of Bukowski's writing: the hardboiled stuff comes through in a poem called "History Of A Tough Motherfucker", which skewers those poetry snobs as well as ends up being quite touching.

Anyway, you're not the only one recently to have connected noir and Buk - there's an interesting wee article in the latest Noir Originals ( called "Shakespeare Never Even Tried This" - might be worth a look.

And if you're looking for anti-heroes in noir, like you said, it's feast rather than famine...

Mel McGuiness said...

bukowski rocks. personally, i'd rather read about the psychos, already live in the head of sane man, right...what's to learn??