Author: Charles Bukowski
Originally Published: 1978
This is a bottom shelf book.
I have to admit something first and foremost here: I did not finish this book. Perhaps it is slightly disingenuous to rate a novel without reading its final pages as it could have a miraculous turn around somewhere in the last third but I highly doubt it. That would have required a new writing style, a sudden taking to the idea of “plot” by Bukowski, and less gimmicky writing – none of which I easily foresaw coming.
Women is a semi-autobiographical look at a man named Henry Chinaski, a celebrated author and poet, one who made his mark with the written word later in life. He is an alcoholic who attempts to fulfill himself with a constant parade of various women (hence the title) and rarely finds satisfaction for longer than a day. He travels the United States to do readings, meets women there as well, and then flies home to carry on with his life. It is all rather repetitive and exhausting.
I understand this is based on his life and many of the main characters he encounters are representations of people Bukowski knew. That is no excuse for the lack of character development (but why do they suddenly scream things out, why are the things they scream absolutely unimportant to the plot, why do any of these people do anything?) and the jumping around from plot to plot, never settling on anything for long. I like a book that is fluid, planned, and has a feeling of taking you with it on a journey that it already has the itinerary for. Women did not feel like that.
At first, Bukowski’s use of vulgar language was entertaining to me – it’s not often you see the things he writes in print. Fairly soon it became overplayed and annoying as I realized quickly that there was no need to use the language he was using and it simply felt like a trick. Perhaps I sound prudish but that is okay with me – I like a well-placed use of the c-word and other such terms but I found that I wasn’t offended by the terms itself but by the unnecessary use of them.
I wanted to love this book. I wanted to read it and have an “Aha!” moment where I finally understood what everyone was talking about when they talked about Bukowski. Perhaps I will delve into some of his other works, the ones that focus on the lowlife character rather than the celebrated artist, and see how I feel about him then. I am cautious and wary about it, though, because I just couldn’t do it anymore when it came to Women. Perhaps I have to resign myself to the fact that I just don’t get it.