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The Last Days

3am Review

1. Think of Post Office, Factotum, and Women, with a trace of Pulp, since it's a PI, or underground writer procedural novel, and you have a rough feel for BUKOWSKI NEVER DID THIS: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF AN UNDERGROUND WRITER AND HIS FAMILY.

PI for post-inaccrochable, or public intellectual. Think of Stanley Crouch telling us about Jack Johnson in the boxing ring. Close-up of Stanley Crouch.

In the year covered in this book Art Brew wrote 18 books. How did he do that and work at a full-time job?

He didn't. He got fired from one job for blogging.

But he's hanging on to the second job at this report.

2. Hemingway said he went ten rounds with Mr. Turgenev. Bukowski went ten rounds with Hemingway. In BUKOWSKI NEVER DID THIS Art Brew goes ten rounds with the Buk. There are two rules. (1) You have to take the whole package. (2) There isn't any package without a lot of shit in it.

3. BUKOWSKI NEVER DID THIS is a play on Shakespeare Never Did This. Bukowski toured Europe. With a paparazzo. The years from 50 to 60 were good years for Bukowski. The years between 60 and 70 were very good years. Brew is 65, trapped, no light at the end of the tunnel, when he sits down and writes his way out, with BUKOWSKI NEVER DID THIS, the first book, after 250 duds, misfires, and rimshots, for which he is to be paid. Although John Bennett sank a year of his own writing time into Screed and Crowbar put up his own money to publish Forty and Jeff Potter is a tireless advocate.

4. What happens to a book after it is written is part of the implicit drama of the book. If you're holding it in your hands, reading it, a small miracle has occurred. William Saroyan said the miracle doesn't happen when you become self-supporting as a writer, but when you become a writer at all. Art Brew says the miracle doesn't happen when a book is a runaway bestseller, but when a book is published at all.

5. A book is not an isolated artefact. It is written in context. A cultural milieu. A sort of a sociology-of-work context, only creative writing, art, for which the writer might not ever be paid. A labor of love. How do you put a price on a labor of love? How do you put a price on your spouse, or significant other's labor of love? There is also a book before it and a book after it in the catalog. The one after it is about what happened to it in the world, after it was written. It's not a sequel but a continuation. A series. BUKOWSKI NEVER DID THIS is like a mid-stream sample, when you give a specimen, for your UA test. In his day job Brew witnesses court-ordered drug-offenders pee in a bottle.

6. If a book is about how to balance writing, work, and family, it ought to be about all three, in equal measure. How does a man do the best work he is capable of doing in a world that's hostile or indifferent to his best. And still be true to his responsibilities to his wife and family. Brew calls this theme "vocation and career in conflict."

7. Richard Brautigan crossed over from the underground to the mainstream. Bukowski did it. Art Brew thought he'd do it, by bearing down, disappearing up his own asshole. The danger is of disappearing.

8. Paul Auster called a book Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure. Everybody fails early. Brew called a series of books For All Mankind: A Tale of Chronic Failure. Can you succeed by staying true to your failure? Have you disavowed your early failure by succeeding? All you can do is bear down, and let what happens happen. And don't compare yourself to anyone else.

There are two metrics. What did you accomplish, and what conditions did you do it under. You can't compare something along two axes at once. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says so. You can say someone did more with the same amount, or did the same amount with less, but you can't say someone did more with less.

Brew did more with less.

9. Bukowski wrote poems, fiction, non-fiction. Then he collected the pieces, by category. Brew put them all in the same book, in order of composition, showing how they influence each other, like Rashomon, only with genres, instead of points of view. A discontinuous narrative held together by the author's voice, and book covers. Once Brew has done it, there's no going back.

10. If BUKOWSKI NEVER DID THIS reads like it was posted daily on the worldwide web, as it was written, it was, but it was written by a writer with 250 books under his belt, who could dash a novel off like a columnist writing a 750-word column, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with his eyes closed, he has done it so often. The wonder isn't that he could do it, but that he could keep it fresh. He surprises himself, by switching from a column to a poem to a prose vignette to an essay to a book review.

11. The last book Brew published, not counting chapbooks commissioned by Roger Jackson, pamphlets he published himself, or the titles he posted on the worldwide web, was Forty, his 40th book, in 1988, 17 years ago. It's been a long, dry spell. Well, a long dry spell publishing. Writing, he's written 214 books since then, 215 in progress.

12. Jack Saunders, bitter literary also-ran, has a new book out, trying to ride the coattails of every small press writer's hero, Charles Bukowski, and, I suppose, the gang of rabble-rousers and professional outsiders who featured him as a headliner at their Legends of the Underground reading, the Underground Literary Alliance (ULA), will act as cheerleaders, as they did at the press conference, where George Plimpton shouted out at them, "Balderdash!" and the Paris Review contingent shouted, "Hear, hear!"

Me and you are pals -- huh, Spike?


Jack Saunders is a member of the Underground Literary Alliance and his Daily Bulletin site can be found here.

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