I don’t know that there is much to say about Charles Bukowski, his writing, or writing in general, that the man hasn’t said himself. The man published over fifty collections of poetry, short story collections, and novels, most of them about himself, in one thinly veiled guise or another. Usually in the form of Henry Chinaski.
In the 80s, The L.A. Times infamously named him “the poet laureate of L.A. lowlife.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the man died without having ever heard the quote. He was too busy proving them right through his personal life and his writing. Factotum, Bukowski’s second novel, continued where his poetry and first novel, Post Office, left off. Whores, drunks, and vulgarians abound. Around every corner a venereal disease, or a wife beating dead beat awaits. Bukowski reveled in being a low brow and he reveled in writing about it. This is not a book anyone should read pinky out.
The structure of the book is interesting, and I have to wonder what drove him to tie it all together as a “novel”. He was prolific, no doubt, but I wonder what caused him to publish the vignettes that make up Factotum as a loosely cohesive novel instead of putting out several short stories using the same material. The only reason I can come up with is that each little tale in this novel pretty much has to do with the same thing; work. More accurately, Factotum is about how much work sucks. It is also about how much Bukowski- I’m sorry, Chinaski, hates working. Reading this on a Monday morning before starting that first daily commute of the week is highly discouraged.
In the mixture of hirings and firings, there are whores and visits to the dog tracks. There are drunken brawls and infidelities. It’s all really quite trashy, but Bukowski does trashy with a severe honesty that gives you no other choice but to hear him out. When a writer says something like “My ambition is handicapped by laziness,” (Bukowski, Factotum) you kind of end up paying attention because it’s so damn hilariously transparent.
Reading Factotum is like letting all of your worst feelings about the worst jobs come spilling out of your guts. “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” (Bukowski, Factotum) Quite hard to disagree on some days, don’t you think?