I have just finished reading Women by Charles Bukowski, the somewhat famous poet, essayist and novelist. I say somewhat because I had never heard of him before my association with the #Fridayflash group. One of the writers in the group, Anthony Venutolo calls his blog Bukowski's Basement. Although I consider myself fairly well read I tend to follow particular authors and without recommendation I am slow to pick up a book (yes I still buy books) by an author with whom I'm not familiar. After reading some of Ant's flash fiction I decided it was time to find out from whenst his obsession--I mean draw to Bukowski had originated. Ant and I are from the same county in New Jersey and he writes for the newspaper that I grew up reading. Perhaps I wanted to find out what he knew that I didn't, at least about this particular author.
So my loyal reader(s), I'll give you my take on Bukowski after reading only one of his books.
Let me begin by saying that anyone who is offended by 'mature language' should stay away from this author, poet, essayist. By page 3 of Women I almost put it in a drawer. There are no small children in my house, in fact there are no large children in my house, but I was afraid my little dog would see some of those words and be shocked at my taste in literature. Instead of giving up, based solely on Anthony's portrayal of Bukowski, I read the entire book.
The main character is a low-down struggling writer who left his job at the post office to write poetry. Living in a hovel in a bad neighborhood in the Los Angeles area he is occasionally summoned to give readings in a variety of venues--colleges, night clubs, book stores, etc. Apparently, fat, ugly, aging poets with missing teeth and zits (his description throughout the book, not mine) have groupies. That concept may be hard to grasp at first, but consider the number of young girls that followed the Rolling Stones in the early years hoping to make intimate physical contact with any or all members of the band, including Charlie Watts, that handsome devil!
The protagonist, Henry Chinaski, adheres to an existential philosophy reminiscent of Meursault, the lead character in The Stranger by Camus. I'm assuming that this comparison isn't lost simply on me. In both stories the protagonist is a single man living alone in a rented flat who makes decisions without giving any consideration to possible consequences of his actions. Both men take the phrase "living in the moment" literally. The results are different but the method is the same. Both Chinaski and Meursault stay somewhat detached from personal relationships. That is where the similarity ends.
Chinaski has an enormous appetite for alcohol and young women. It's hard to imagine when he has time to do any writing. But, alas, the book is not about his writing it is about his life. My first impression was that this was a stark glimpse into the lives of people who possess little or no self respect. Each new character introduces a different perspective on that same theme. Eventually I found the descriptions of the gratuitous sex scenes boring. Yet, I did not put the book in the drawer--I continued reading and in the end I admit there was a point to it all. I will leave it at that. I wouldn't want to spoil the fun for anyone who may also decide to look inside Chinaski's--I mean Bukowski's mind. My guess is that Bukowski may appeal more to men than women but I prefer to read works by male authors in order to get insight into the other half of the population.
I will conclude by saying that I am intrigued and will read more Bukowski before deciding if I feel he is under-rated and deserves more editorial space on my blog or over-rated in which case my posts will be Bukowski-free in the future.
Any and all comments are welcome. If you are a Bukowski fan, please jump in and express yourself.
Excerpts from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me during conversations that took place during the 2 years we knew each other. I also write humor, flash fiction, celebrity interviews, real and made up stories--see if you can guess which are which.