Charles Bukowski is the great author of the working man. In Post Office, his semi-autobiographical protagonist, Hank Chinaski, illustrates that outside the office you never know what your coworkers are into. In Hank’s case, while he is an insubordinate subordinate down at the Post Office, he can stick mail with the best of them. Outside the office though he is a major alcie, drunk almost all the time. His life’s striving is to hit a few horses at the track, so he can buy a big steak and keep drinking. The book is amusing when Hank offers his cynical take on the people and events in his life. Many readers don’t like the book, because Hank is a jerk, but is he anymore of a jerk than the book’s other characters? No, he’s actually a lot less callous.
Even though Post Office is dated, it is different and it will have you imagining what your own life would be like if you partied all the time. Beyond that, it’s not very interesting.
There aren’t many writers whose careers have been as prolific and profitable as Ken Follett. He has sold many millions of books and his wallet is likely much thicker than the most profuse of those books. Our host for this meeting selected Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune for examination. He had enjoyed the book many years ago. While familiar with the name Ken Follett, of our assemblage, only this humble scribe was unfamiliar with the writings of Ken Follett. Time for enlightenment.
Due to a last minute conflict, I missed most of the scheduled discussion and upon arrival was hit with a “What did you think?” Well, to be honest, the writing was terrible. Simplistic and tediously repetitive. Tonio is intimidated by Mickey Miranda…I know Ken, you told me ten times. Augusta knows nothing of banking…I KNOW ALREADY!!! And the plots and schemes of the story’s antagonists? They go off without a hitch and even more quickly and effectively than even the plotters could have dreamed. Am I being harsh on Ken? Ken, who had the audacity to remark about J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, a Man Booker prize winner & my last book pick, that the book was “very poor … terrible.” Incredible. Shameless. The world turned upside down.
That said, I, like everyone else, enjoyed A Dangerous Fortune. Despite the writing, it was as riveting and a 1980s episode of Dynasty or Dallas. Devious villains pulling the strings of sympathetic characters. Ken Follett is McDonalds. We all eat at McDonalds sometimes.
Number 29 on Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century. Dino Buzzati’s short novel unquestionably provides food for thought. Giovanni Drogo’s tour of duty at Fort Bastiani is an apt metaphor for the American Dream of go to work, send your kids to college, pay off your mortgage, then upon entering your sunset years…you get the cancer diagnosis.
The story is set at the aforementioned fortress, which guards the northern pass against a potential barbarian invasion. The young Lieutenant Drogo arrives and quickly surmises that this posting is a dead end for his military career and all the exertions of the fort’s inhabitants are pointless, as a barbarian has not been seen in these parts for generations. Expertly talked out of requesting an immediate transfer, Drogo falls in step with the fort’s rhythms, and the days, then soon the decades start to slip by.
You might be bored with the book, but you will be impressed by Buzzati’s impressions on life slipping through one’s fingers. If you care at all, go to the library and request the book, then read the last seven paragraphs of the book’s 6th Chapter. Got it? Then read the final chapter where you will hear again about the grey, monotonous sea that has been there since time immemorial. Carpe Diem…or else.