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"Break-In": Charles Bukowski's Home Invasion Opus

By Ben Newell

Few could argue Charles Bukowski’s stature as America’s poet laureate of the losers, nor the popular appeal of his streetwise autobiographical work as countless poems, short stories, and five of his six novels are narrated by his alter-ego Henry Chinaski. Bukowski’s literary reputation, such as it is, rests firmly on this bedrock of confessional literature, from his very first published short story, “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip,” in Story magazine to the many posthumous poetry and prose volumes still being issued today. With exceedingly direct and lucid prose, the Bukowski oeuvre guides readers from his Depression-era childhood all the way to his status as a full-blown literary celebrity hanging out with the likes of Sean Penn and Madonna.

But Bukowski’s literary efforts reached far beyond the autobiographical. Rightfully recognized as a staggeringly prolific writer, perhaps Bukowski’s versatility is sometimes overlooked; especially his ability to work in numerous genres. A thorough examination of Bukowski’s many published short stories indicates a writer with a decided interest in genre work; consider the zany sex western, “Stop Staring at my Tits, Mister,” his alien invasion story, “The Way it Happened,” and the cannibal horror tale, “Christ with Barbecue Sauce.”

And while these stories are collected—South of No North (1973), Portions of a Wine-Stained Notebook (2008), and Absence of the Hero (2010), respectively—one of Bukowski’s most visceral genre pieces, the brutal crime story, “Break-In,” has never seen publication beyond its original appearance in the March 1979 issue of Hustler. Featuring piss-drinking at gunpoint and a highly graphic rape scene, “Break-In,” reads like one of the many hardcore “Roughie” films produced in the seventies and eighties before the Meese Commission put the kibosh on violent pornography. Imagine Shaun Costello’s Forced Entry (1970) or Phil Prince’s Taming of Rebecca (1982) as short stories for an idea of the degenerate delights awaiting you in Bukowski’s piece.

“Break-In” is a simple story about two crooks—“Eddie” and “Harry”—who invade a nice home and proceed to terrorize its inhabitants, newscaster “Tom Maxson” and his much younger girlfriend “Nana.” Originally invading the home for “cash and jewels,” the crooks quickly abandon this idea, focusing instead on humiliation, torture, and rape. Situated as it is in the opening third of the narrative, the piss-drinking scene sets the tone for the rough ride ahead. After pissing in a glass, Harry has Eddie hold a lit cigar to Nana’s nipple: “You hold that cigar next to the nipple of the lady’s breast. And if this jerk-off doesn’t drink all of this piss down to the very last drop, I want you to burn that nipple off with that cigar.” But there will be no singed nipple. As ordered, Maxson chugs the piss, this while continually mouthing off to his tormentors: “You’re just the weak feeding off of the strong. If I weren’t here, you’d hardly exist.” Such comments from the newscaster are matched by Harry’s equally vitriolic retorts: “Even piss can’t stop your flow of bullshit. You’re one spoiled turd. You realize how many people there are on this earth without a chance? Because of where and how they were born? Because they had no education?” These exchanges add a layer of class-warfare to what is otherwise a straightforward home invasion story. Heavy-handed at times, one can sense Bukowski overreaching when Maxson and Harry exchange verbal jabs, trying too hard to infuse the narrative with a socioeconomic message.

But such missteps hardly lessen the piece’s appeal as hard-hitting sleazy entertainment. Rendered in exceedingly pornographic prose, Nana’s rape leaves nothing to the imagination. After failing to perform, Eddie masturbates while Harry does the deed: “Harry was ramming the blonde so hard that her head was bouncing. Then he slapped her and pulled out.” Harry further torments Maxson by waggling his engorged cock in the newscaster’s face before resuming the rape. In the end, Eddie and Harry make off with a mere eighty-three dollars as Harry, despite Eddie’s protestations, is far too spooked to ransack the premises: “I’m nervous. I feel trouble coming. You can stay. I’m leaving.” So that’s what they do, slinking away and heading to a porn theater to watch an Annette Haven film.

That “Break-In” has never been collected is perplexing; the story certainly ranks among Bukowski’s most subversive pieces, right alongside such crime shockers as “The Fiend” and “The Murder of Ramon Vasquez,” a notorious pair that wallows in the taboo territories of pedophilia and male-on-male sexual assault, respectively. And unlike “Break-In,” both of these stories were collected in Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972) and later in The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & Other Stories (1983). For now, those wanting to read “Break-In” must resort to hunting down a pricey Hustler back issue. That’s what I did. And I suggest you do the same. It’s a gloriously nasty ride.

Ben Newell pays the rent clerking at the Millsaps College library in Jackson, Mississippi. His prose and poetry has appeared in Hustler Fantasies, My Favorite Bullet, Nerve Cowboy, Yellow Mama, and others.