Nicholas Kastinovich is a tormented young bookseller struggling to keep his bookstore afloat in the town of San Pedro. Hassled by his father, ostracized more often than not by his wife his only joy comes from building his collection of books, imagining a brighter future with Katherine, a lady who visits the shop, and hoping for a clear indication of friendship from the infamous author Charles Bukowski, who lives in the area.
This is a book where our lead character is bared naked to the reader. We are privy to his every thought, movement, irritation, desire and dream. Narrated throughout by Kastinovich the story is honest and sad. There is no glossing over depression, there is no hiding from the dispossessed feeling to the downtown area of San Pedro. But somewhere within this melancholy there is hope and a belief that better things are still to come.
Any lover of books who has at one time or another found solace within the pages of a novel or even spent a day hidden away in a bookshop will immediately empathise with Kastinovich and understand why and how his books become such a lifeline for him. The bookshop alone is his beacon for the brighter future. When we are at our lowest, when we feel the world can offer us nothing, to a lover of books there is always a place to escape, there amongst the letters, words, paragraphs and chapters do we find our place. Like a comfort blanket the words swirl around us and take us away from our misery. Kastinovich is a character we can all identify with.
What I loved about this book is the honest and brutal narrative. The style reminded me of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, one man pouring his heart out and over analysing life to us his captive audience. I don’t know how other people read but for me characters have voices, I hear the tones and lilts within their speech as I read the book. Kastinovich could only ever be voiced by one person in my opinion and that is David Sadaris. Sadaris is well known for his autobiographical and self-deprecating humour which is a perfect match for our down trodden bookseller.
Whilst you feel for Kastinovich when things get tough there are also many times when you can’t help but will him to just grow some balls and take control of his situation. There is a strong trait of self-pity in our leading character and I found myself in part waiting for the straw that would break the camel’s back and force him into action.
Ultimately very little happens in Shadowboxing with Bukowski – there is no great twist in the story, no climatic ending but there is a truth and openness. On completing it I’m not moved like some books, my views have not been challenged and no thoughts have been provoked, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with Kastinovich. It was sort of like having tea with a relative, it was hard going at times but you’re left feeling the other person got far more out of it than you and that’s ok.