Women by Charles Bukowski
Henry ‘Hank’ Chinaski is an alcoholic writer who maintains a complex relationship with the many women in his life. He’s a highly regarded poet who likes to get drunk and fight with his audiences at readings. He enjoys his literary groupies, often twice in one night and three times on a Sunday. But, although Hank is prolific in his trade, he has little wealth. He drinks and gambles his earnings or spends it on his fiery paramours. As a result, of the many problems that Hank undoubtedly has, the bane of his life is the constant stream of female crazies that are attracted to him and he to them.
There are too many women portrayed in this semi-autobiographical novel for Rebel Voice to cover – or cover-up as the case may be as they parade around naked for much of it. Suffice it to say that they are all interesting and wacky as hell. It’s easy to see why the weak and vulnerable Hank is so enamored by them.
Linda is a complete nut with the temper of a hungry and rabid wolf. Both she and Hank tear one another to pieces as they try to love each other to death. But Linda is no sooner gone, exhausted by the turmoil, than Tammie appears on the scene to take her place. Life continues on for Hank, along its unstoppable trajectory akin to a roller-coaster ride on the path to hell.
Yet some of Hank’s romantic and sexual interests are more sensible. Then again, anyone would seem more sensible compared to the aforementioned pair. Hank’s flaw, one of a multitude, is that he doesn’t realise that he has a good thing when it’s there. For this reason, many good women slip through his fingers. Speaking of fingers, the language in this novel is about as raucous and bawdy as you will find. The words are those of a working class stiff who refuses to conform to the social expectations hefted onto him by a pretentious literary class. It is this rawness that makes Hank so desirable to both women and audiences across the US. The book is written in the first person, so the reader gets an intimate rendering of Hank’s sexually charged existence.
Women was first published in 1978, yet it is still a shocking insight into the crazed life of one artistic madman. It makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas look like Little House on the Prairie. It’s a fucking great read.
Many readers may feel that Hank (and Bukowski) is a misogynist. But this misses the point of the story in as much as it has a point. Hank loves women. He loves being with them, loves fighting with them and really loves having sex with them. He enjoys their shapes, their noises, their tempers, their smell, their sweat, their legs wrapped around him. He thrives on the illicit. He is a product of his poor upbringing, referenced on occasion throughout. He finds himself unable to stop from engaging in self-destructive behaviour even as he understands what it’s doing to him.
This is Hank’s opinion on love;
‘Love is all right for those who can handle the psychic overload. It’s like trying to carry a full garbage can on your back over a rushing river full of piss.’
As you can see, Hank is a dyed in the wool romantic…
He can be patient and forgiving to the point of having no dignity as he is mistreated by his latest squeeze. He is also incredibly disloyal and can be intolerant when pushed. Today, he would be diagnosed as a sex-addict. But it an emotional need that drives Hank into his many sexual encounters, one which he struggles to deal with even though he is aware of the root cause of the problem. Hank’s twisted personality is that of a typical genius in that he’s completely self-absorbed for most of the time, and his women fall by the wayside as he fights to finds reasons to keep on living. He’s a very complex and messed-up person, but makes for a great character in a book. If Jane Austen could have created a Hank then perhaps her novels would be more interesting. Mr Darcy? Fuck right off.
The psychological and emotional issues addressed in this master-piece are many and profound. Yet all is presented fully wrapped in a filthy cover of frayed ribbons that stink of alcohol and sex. It is concerning that Women is said to be based upon the author’s life. If true, it is to be hoped that Charles Bukowski used a lot of artistic licence in penning this as Henry Chinaski, whilst highly intelligent and entertaining, is one very screwed-up cookie. As Bukowski would say ‘I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they aren’t around.’ Of interest is the fact that Bukowski had a column in an underground LA newspaper called Notes of a Dirty Old Man which caused the FBI to open a file on him. He died in 1994 from cancer.
Bukowski’s influences, as personified in Henry Chinaski, all make for a fantastic read though. Strong characters dominate and there are plenty of them. The story-line is solid and the imagery vivid in its sleazy content. Women is not for the faint of heart or the prudish. This is a novel for fans of straight-talking, blue-collar dialogue and the lives that facilitate it. It ain’t pretty and has its warts (likely genital), but Women is still one helluva read.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Classic piece of Americana which gives us an important look at the seedy, needy and emotionally greedy side of LA life. Highly recommended.