I ventured into Charles Bukowski via recommendations from trusted sources. Women is my first look, and for a while I was thinking it would be my last. But I think I’ve changed my mind. Read on to find out why.
Women is a rambling account of a 50+ writer named Henry Chinaski (not too much of a disguise for the author’s moniker) who finally achieves success and thus becomes attractive to women. He’s an unrepentant alcoholic, and a sloppy, dirty one at that. He works his way through countless paramours, and the book is an account of his endless and pointless rounds of drinking and fucking. The sex is explicit and, I imagine, would have seemed pornographic in 1978 when the book was published. It’s astounding that the women keep coming on to him, and,
in a number of cases returning after the first encounter. He’s seldom caring, often either entirely flaccid (one girl friend calls him her “wet noodle.”) or unable to climax because of his drinking. The drinking often causes him to vomit at inopportune moments. Women is full of humor, with its French-farcical complications of women running in and out of Henry’s life and digs at various times. The Christmas dinner fiasco with Sara’s organic is perhaps the most hilarious. Bukowski is merciless with his account of Chinaski’s failings as a lover and human being, and he’s also unrelenting in his portrayal of the women who become groupies for celebrity, even though the celebrity is a pathetic figure of a man. The novel ends virtually in mid-sentence, with the protagonist having finally realized that he’s a complete shit. However, he there’s no indication that he has any desire or plans to change either his attitude or behavior.
I appreciated some but not all of this as I was reading it, but grew so bored with the with the monotony of infatuation, sex, rejection, and cynicism that I began to wonder what the point was. Going by my maxim that when I fail to be moved by a writer that many others find thrilling, the failing is in me, not the book. So I did something I have never done before–I turned to the reviews. Lo and behold, I learned something, had to admit I’d overlooked an item or two. I include below a passage of Chinaski’s quoted by one reviewer:
I walked away feeling worse and worse. … I could certainly play some nasty, unreal games. What was my motive? Was I trying to get even for something. …. I tinkered with lives and souls as if they were my playthings. How could I call myself a man? … The worst part of it was that I passed myself off for exactly what I wasn’t — a good man. I was able to enter people’s lives because of their trust in me. I was doing my dirty work the easy way.
The revelation doesn’t lead to any change in behavior, and that seems to be the point of the book. I still think Bukowski could have achieved the same effect better with a few less women and a little less fucking, and we’d have all been better off. But I am ready to affirm that Women is a work to recommend, and will go on to more Bukowski. However, Urrea still remains my find of 2011