‘PO’ is Bukowski on top (or should that be bottom?) form. It is a semi-autobiographical account of his time working (or avoiding working) for the US Postal Service, and chronicles his life both at work and at home. Henry Chinaski (Bukowski’s alter ego in many of his books) is the arch-misanthrope, an aggressive alcoholic with no desire to achieve anything other than staying alive and staying drunk. There is no romanticism in his lifestyle: it is unrelentingly visceral and grim. Women are for sex not love, work is about getting paid for doing as little as possible and life is about drinking. Even in his writing he makes no attempt to engage with his readers, who are treated with as much contempt as the rest of the world.
It is difficult to define the attraction of Bukowski, He was clearly not a nice man, and his hero, Chinaski, is not someone you would want to meet. Many aspects of him are downright repugnant, such as when he rapes a mentally ill woman, but there is something fascinating about a life that has given up on any sense of purpose, any desire for better things. Bukowski is the poet laureate for the people who don’t give a damn and, for the rest of us who still care about some things, some of the time, seeing the idea of apathy taken to its extreme is disturbing but mesmerising at the same time. I have read a lot of Bukowski, but ‘PO’ is perhaps the one that sums him up the best. It is full of the ugly side of life, so won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you are interested by Bukowski, this has to be the one to start with.