“Women” by Charles Bukowski (1978)
There’s enough hagiography of Charles Bukowski already on the Internet. I won’t be adding to it. “Women” is not a very well-written or interesting book. Most women won’t like it because of its vulgarity, its mean contempt. Men over-praise it because “It says what men are really thinking”.
- “It’s possible to love a human being if you don’t know them too well.”
“Women” is a novel of the 1970s. Disco, waterbeds, one night stands. It was a crazy time for men; it was a crazy time for women; it was a crazy time for men together with women. The main character of “Women” is Henry Chinanski, a thinly veiled double of the author himself. Henry Chinanski likes only two things in life, alcohol and sleeping with women. Writing poems and novels are just a means of paying for the rest. For all else Chinanski has only contempt, and after he has slept with a woman, he’s pretty much done with her too.
- “I never knew what to say to the ladies. But she had a behind. I watched that beautiful behind as she walked away. The seat of her blue jeans cradled it, and I watched it as she walked away.”
That is one of the milder less mean quotes in the book. Chinanski is a poet / novelist. His publisher sends him all over the country and Canada to give readings. Some of the women who attend these readings want to get close to him. He invites them to come out to his apartment, she has a few drinks, he has a ton of drinks. He ends up going to bed with her. He usually is too drunk to perform that night, but the next morning…. Then after a few days he sends her on her way so he can get on to the next one. But frequently these women will keep coming back. Henry doesn’t mind as long as they don’t mess up his next conquest. One thing Henry is very proud of is the age difference between him and his women. He is in his fifties, and the women keep getting younger, 32, 25, 22, 18.
After about 20 such trysts, the book gets very repetitive, especially since the women are essentially interchangeable parts to him whether they be Lydia, Sara, Katherine, Cassie, Joanna, Cecelia, Debra, Tessie, and so on. The same situation keeps recurring until it becomes terribly dull to read. Perhaps this endless repetition was meant to be humorous, but it comes off as relentless obsession. If Chinanski had some great insight into what he’s doing, that could be interesting, but he doesn’t. His only insights are how he hates most people besides himself, and how these women just keep coming back no matter what he does to them, so he must be a great lover.
In this novel, someone asks Chinanski who his favorite writer is. Chinanski says “Fante”. I’ve read John Fante; his novels have charm, but this novel has no charm whatsoever.
So what’s with the Charles Bukowski cult? Why are his novels rated four stars on Amazon? Why do some critics call his books classics? Bukowski does have a very conversational, easy to read way of writing. One of his books was made into the movie ‘Barfly’. Bukowski writes “the way men really think”. It wouldn’t be very macho for a man to criticize Charles Bukowski, no matter how poorly written his books are. Bukowski basically writes like someone who has had too much to drink.