“You don’t know how lucky you are to be ugly, because if people like you, you know it’s for something else.”
In the style of an exasperated James Joyce, Bukowski reveals the reality, his reality, the one of an America that is lost between her drunk citizens and the caustic wisdom of her prostitutes. Whether you end up puzzled or laughing, offended or fascinated, this collection of twenty short, sarcastic, disillusioned stories will not leave you unmoved; the words dangerously juggle between vulgarity and poetry to reveal the abysmal apathy of our world, in a work that is as cathartic as it is sickening.
“Sickening”: it really is the word to describe the collection. Bukowski’s short stories follow his counterpart(s) as they progress through the obscenity, hypocrisy, cupidity and cheap debauchery of a civilisation on the verge of breaking down, and reading him is not, in any way, pleasurable. Not a single note of hope, except maybe for the possibility of finding fulfillment in the isolation of an alternative world in the last story; not a page without some form of violence; and almost no character who does not inspire anything but profound aversion. Each story is more bitter a picture than the previous one. Each picture confronts the reader with the vileness, the inhumanity, the “ordinary madness” of the 20th century.
At the end of the day? Bukowski has succeeded; he was revolting; Eliot could practically allege that he has showed us fear in a handful of dust. The delicious infamy of the Tales forces us to take a good look in the mirror – and the reflection that is described jumps out of its frame to punch us in the face.