Okay, we said we weren’t going to review Women but as Mr. Wapojif has a severe case of man flu, he’s decided to do it as he’s in a grouchy mood. There are multiple problems with Women (hur hurr!), the most evident being it is simply far too long. At 300 pages chronicling Bukowski’s adventures and misadventures with the ladies, it turns into a self-indulgent experience which loses much of the dark, absurdist humour of his other works.
It’s not without merit, of course, but it would have certainly been better suited to novella status. We don’t know what Bukowski was thinking (well, we do as he was drunk when he wrote it – three bottles of wine a night, apparently), but he got ahead of himself and this proved to be one of his few missteps. Still, let us take a look at Women (1978) and revel in the squalid madness.
As you’ll know if you’ve read Factotum or Post Office, there’s a persistent theme of womanising sprinkled amongst the drunken antics and employment mishaps. Bukowski’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski, remains a boisterous anti-hero, a downtrodden low-life who has accepted his lot with drunken wit but certainly won’t pass through life making things easy for anyone.
The real Charles Bukowski, sadly, was plagued with terrible acne in his youth along with average looks, so he was heartbroken to find himself alienated from society (his father also beat him). After his awful upbringing, it’s no surprise he rejected society and imposed himself in isolation (stating in Factotum he thrived on solitude). A shy man in adulthood, his drinking brought out his explosive nature, but also ensured he could never hold a steady job.
What’s important to stress, though, is Bukowski in literary form was rock and roll – he drank way too much, had no respect for authority, little desire for self-preservation, and didn’t give a shit. Upon finding success as a writer aged 50, he suddenly became a surprise sex symbol of sorts due to his rebellious attitude, which helped audiences familiar with Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac to find him endearing.
This resulted in Bukowski turning his experiences with women into a lurid account of sleeping around, interspersed with thunderous bouts of alcoholism. How true Women is we can’t know for sure – it’s simply best to consider his work as semi-autobiographical. However, this time around, whilst the mishaps and dark humour are there, by the time you reach the 100th page you’re going around in circles. The edgy cool of previous works clears off and reading becomes a pornographic chore.
It’s almost as if he wrote it to infuriate feminists (one of the women in the work, Linda King, was horrified by her depiction), possibly as Bukowski letting out his rage at women now he’d suddenly found success with them. Or, maybe, he just found it a bit of a laugh. Whatever, it’s not essential reading from the Bukowski canon but it did, at least, steer him towards a more poignant and autobiographical root for his next book.
Ham on Rye
To Bukowski’s credit, he got his act back together with the excellent Ham on Rye (1982). This goes some way to explaining how he came to be the way he was, with Women standing as a testament to his confusion with the opposite sex. Feeling rejected, there was a lot of resentment welling away there.
Despite his issues, the real theme Bukowski’s works should be remembered for (we think) is the humour. Whilst big doses of poignancy are never far away, along with the absurdity of a working class existence, he carried on through it all with a wry wit and a casual aloofness few writers have mastered since. All hail to him then, Mr. Bukowski!