The Bell Tolls for No One: By Charles Bukowski, edited by David Stephen Calonne, 305 pgs. By Jim Woster

Sep 29, 2015

 City Lights found some more Bukowski for a new collection. There are a few types of people who should take the time to read it.

People Who Want to Read What Bukowski’s Style Was Like Before He Found His Voice—The first story, never published before, is a 1948 attempt to write like the serious and important writers did (and anyone who ever tried to write fiction while in their twenties will recognize that impulse): “The parents died younger than it is usual to die, the father first, the mother soon afterward.”

People Who Have Read His Novel Women and Wish It Were Longer—If you haven’t read Women yet, or have and remember it as a lengthy, frequently-but-not-always-engaging blur… you could always just read or reread that. According to this collection’s editor David Stephen Calonne, some of these stories originally published in the Los Angeles Free Press with an editor’s note that they were part of a novel-in-progress called Love Tale of a Hyena, are about the women in Women. The women in The Bell Tolls for No One are his usual fans and shackjobs.

People Who Want to Read Stories He Wrote for Porno Mags Like Hustler and Oui—Most of them are juvenile, none are sexually arousing. (I don’t know that they were supposed to be, which begs the question, Were Hustler and Oui fans both reading and enjoying the stories?) One of them is a dumbass fantasy (like the ones he occasionally wrote and that I always skim or skip) about rooming with Hitler and farting out a tiny creature that Hitler celebrates for some reason. Actually, now that I’ve written that, I suppose a fan of bizarro fiction could get into it.

Among the porno mag stories is an unpublished story about two American terrorists on an airplane—there was a fair amount of hijacking in the ‘70s—who threaten to blow up the plane unless they can have sex with the flight attendants. For awhile I thought I was reading a lost masterpiece, but Bukowski describes the rapes with an energy bordering on relish, maybe above and beyond the relish of his characters, and I empathized with all the women out there who hate Bukowski’s writing. (A woman once posted on MySpace that she was a lock for me until I told her I liked his writing. Learn from my mistakes, gentlemen.) In the bibliography, this story is listed chronologically before and after the Hustlerand Oui stories, and I suspect that either both magazines found the story too offensive to publish (imagine Hustler rejecting something for being too offensive) or maybe Bukowski decided it was too offensive to send out (imagine that, too). Or he was drunk and put it in the wrong drawer.

People Who Like Pocket-Sized PaperbacksThe Bell Tolls for No One has the dimensions of the mass-market paperbacks I grew up with, and it is rare that I want to read a book that gets a mass-market publication as opposed to a (larger-dimension) trade publication. (Not even Stephen King’s latest paperback release Revival got a mass-market release.) I don’t know how many of you care about that, but for me it’s a selling point.

People Who Want to Read Bukowski Writing about Politics in 1968—Bukowski’s act always included a disavowal of any interest in politics but Nixon’s ’68 victory upset him enough to write a speculative story about its aftermath: “Layoffs began everywhere. One man had to do the work of two at half the wages of one man. The relief rolls were closed down, old age pensions terminated. The police force was tripled, new concentration camps and jails were built....” It was 1968 when he wrote that. –Jim Woster (City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Ave., SF, CA94113)