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Murder Slim Review: THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH...

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I have big reservations about Bukowski's posthumous stuff. It actually feels as if Linda Lee and John Martin were cashing in on the Bukowski name, knowing that fans would continue to buy his work. But after the first couple of poetry collections, the standard has dropped off horrendously. I've read collections with three poems virtually the same, except for altered endings. These are not Bukowski's final thoughts. These are works in progress and works dismissed for not being good enough. To print them seems unfair, and to enjoy them seems self-delusional.

But here's the massive contradiction to that rule. THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH is superb, even though it was first printed four years after Bukowski's death. It's well constructed, beautifully written and insightful throughout. It's also Bukowski at his most natural. Freed of having to structure a narrative, he's just writing thoughts in un-poetic, plain language. We see all of Bukowski's massive strengths... his wry humour, his clean sentences, and his inability to fit in.

THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH is essentially a diary of Bukowski from 1991 - 1993. There's an extended break through the end of 1992, when Bukowski was laid low by illness. What we see is a superb snapshot of a writer in his later years. As thoughtful as ever, but beginning to look back. Bukowski is also acutely aware of death. Here's an entry from 6/23/1992:
"I have probably written more and better in the past 2 years than at any time in my life. It's as if from over 5 decades of doing it, I might have gotten close to really doing it. Yet, in the past 2 months I have begun to feel a weariness. The weariness is mostly physical, yet it's also a touch spiritual. It could be that I am ready to go into decline. It's a horrible thought, of course. The ideal was to continue until the moment of my death, not to fade away. In 1989 I overcame TB. This year it has been an eye operation that has not as yet worked out. And a painful right ankle, foot. Small things. Bits of skin cancer. Death nipping at my heels, letting me know. I'm an old fart, that's all. Well, I couldn't drink myself to death. I came close but I didn't. Now I deserve to live with what's left."

But while THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH is not all as reflective as that, it's equally well written. Once again, Bukowski has an art for picking genuinely fascinating moments in ordinary life. There's a fan too shy to talk to him at the racetrack, and Bukowski being thankful for it. There's a writer pissed off with Bukowski for supposedly turning John Martin away from his work. Here, Bukowski is seldom the hellraiser. And, to an extent, he never was the complete hellraiser people made him out to be. Sure, he could be an aggressive drunk, but he was also self-reflective. Bukowski created his own hero myth and a bunch of great, near-to-the-knuckle stories out of that. But even in POST OFFICE, the initial rape scene is balanced by Bukowski desperately trying (and failing) to pass the speed-post exam required to get a steady job. The novels work because of that brilliant, clever balance. You remember the balls-out stuff, but the intelligence behind that makes it sympathetic.

The Captain Is Out To Lunch and The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

I loved THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH, and I'd put it up there with my favourites by Bukowski. It also doesn't hurt that it also includes some wonderful art by Robert Crumb. I hope this made it to the Harper Collins edition. It was always a shame that the textured card covers never did. Say what you want about Black Sparrow Press, but those Bukowski books have great design. Distinctive, tactile. Nowadays Harper Perennial chug out "classy" covers with black-and-white photos and lousy fonts. The Black Sparrow Press Fante/Bukowski books look different to celebrate how different the content is. It screams out from the bookshelf.

Put THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH at the top of the list of Bukowski books you haven't had chance to check out yet. It's thoughtful, entertaining and a quick, great read.

Review by Steve Hussy