I remember that passage in Ham On Rye vividly. Henry Chinaski and his friend came across a stray dog and thought it’d be nice to baptize it, so it could go heaven too. That passage made me double over with laughter, I mean, the absurdity of it all is just too much and makes for good comic relief. At several points, Bukowski draws out from his experiences to share the extremes that marked his life; his general disdain for his own kind, his self-loathing, the exploits of his alcoholism, the inflection point of his life. But throughout the book, there’s a theme that surfaces to remind the reader that despite Chinaski’s turbulent life, he kept on going, never coming to a point where self-pity or whining would become his mantra. Well I suppose alcohol did help.
In J.M.G Le Clezio’s Hazaran, a short story that focuses on the blooming friendship between a young slum girl and an older neighbor, there’s a passage about the latter’s self-sacrifice in which he starves himself to ask the universe for recompense, in his case, that the city officials would leave the slum dwellers alone and wouldn’t go forward with their plans of razing the whole thing. Le Clezio dwells a lot on mystical themes and this indescribable force that some human beings are bestowed with and he helps us find a wellspring of goodness within ourselves when exposed to the exploits of marginalized individuals bucking the system with their passive resistance. There’s not a speck of humor when the subject of our own survival crops up, contrary to Bukowski’s approach. But the fact that someone would willingly starve themselves in the belief that their self-sacrifice would reap its fruits, is not only mystical, it’s downright antithetical to human nature.
In Mary Shelley’s magnum opus-and perhaps only opus-Frankenstein, we’re engulfed in a chaotic setting where the protagonist reckons with his devilish creation, a monster that bears resemblance to the worst of us but who can still justify his deviousness. Their cat-and-mouse antics take them to the edge of the world, where inclement conditions make their final face-off even more harrowing. The ending is a testament to how everything ends in the real world, with the stronger one emerging victorious, regardless of their moral character. It’s a novel filled with feelings of restlessness, contrition and vengeance with no promise of reconciliation.
I could go on and on about all the books that have marked me, about all the lessons I derived from them, but the only true lesson that makes sense to me is that in the end, nothing does make any sense, or rather we ascribe the meaning to conditions that aren’t necessarily equipped with only one meaning. The coda to all of this reading, to this agglomeration of fictional morality to me is that no matter the ending, it doesn’t change anything, and nor should it.