One of Charles Bukowski's best, this beer-soaked, deliciously degenerate novel follows the wanderings of aspiring writer Henry Chinaski across World War II-era America. Deferred from military service, Chinaski travels from city to city, moving listlessly from one odd job to another, always needing money but never badly enough to keep a job. His day-to-day existence spirals into an endless litany of pathetic whores, sordid rooms, dreary embraces, and drunken brawls, as he makes his bitter, brilliant way from one drink to the next.
Charles Bukowski's posthumous legend continues to grow. Factotum is a masterfully vivid evocation of slow-paced, low-life urbanity and alcoholism, and an excellent introduction to the fictional world of Charles Bukowski.
I found "Factotum" to be episodic and to lack the focus and impact of Bukowski's excellent novel "Post Office," also featuring Chinaski. But "Factotum" is still a good read with some really stunning passages. Bukowski seems to be deromanticizing the "myth of the starving artist," which he calls a "hoax," in this book. I only wish that "Factotum" featured more about Chinaski's vocation as a writer; I found the parts of the book that focused on his identity as a writer to be the most interesting parts.
"Factotum" is particularly interesting in its context as a novel of the World War II era which deals with the U.S. homefront, but in an entirely unromantic and detached way. Bukowski's prose is often quite vivid; one encounter with a rather scary prostitute is a particular gem of Bukowski's raw, in-your-face style. Overall, a solid work by one of America's most distinctive writers.
This book is composed of a series of short passages, 87 total. This book is mostly about Henry Chinaski (meaning, for the most part, Charles Bukowski) drinking, having sex with women who drink, and moving from job to job. I dont know how many jobs Chinaski has in this book, but he often holds them only long enough for a single one-page section.
If there is any unity in terms of story and plot in this book, it is found in the women, such as Jan and Laura, who manage to stay in Chinaski's life for a few jobs; the women serve to string together the sections.
More significant than any plot are the various interwoven themes that Bukowski deals with, such as futility, solitary existence, and death (all themes that might lead us to link Bukowski with existentialist philosophy). These ideas (among others) are all related, and also related to the ways in which they are expressed, namely, through alcohol, cheap sex, disgust towards humanity, and peacefulness in the strangest situations-- and of course, Henry Chinaski's inability to hold a job or even have any desire to do so. On one hand, this book is a quick and light read; on the other hand, a close read that keeps in mind the interplay between the different themes involved truly exposes the genius of Bukowski.
Overall, this is a book that for the most part ends where it begins (it begins with Chinaki arriving in New Orleans and "looking for the poor section" and ends in a go-go bar, with Chinaski holding his last 38 cents), but this circularity, i find, is intimate to the theme of futility: why go anywhere? why do anything? As Bukowski writes in the movie "Barfly", "Who made up this rule that everybody has to 'be somebody'?" Chinaski doesn't refuse to "be somebody" (remember, he has a great will to write), but he refuses to do it in terms set by other people; he refuses to define himself in terms of occupation, and other surface illusions--as to be somebody in such a way, he finds, is far too confining. On a side note, it seems as if Bukowski lifted a lot of material from this book when writing the script for "Barfly," as Laura becomes Wanda in the film and both the book and the film have Wilbur, among other similarities. Overall, this is a fine book that is both an enjoyable read and constantly impresses the reader with clever insights into what we often take as ordinary.