Monday, April 19, 2010


For a long time I had regarded LA poet Charles Bukowski as a "barfly bard" or "lowlife laureate" and had never heard of his semi-biographical novels. Recently I ran across his novel Women, in which Bukowski's alter ego Hank Chinaski beds dozens of women under a great variety of circumstances. Bukowski's fictionalized account of his sexual escapades falls squarely in the literary tradition of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Jack Kerouac's On the Road except that Bukowski's work is stripped down to booze and sex, bereft of any literary, Buddhist or socially redeeming pretensions. For all its apparent crudeness, Bukowski's Women is funny, deeply honest, and, for those with eyes to see, strangely informative about basic male/female relations in ways that eluded Bukowski's more famous rivals. Roman poet Ovid fancied himself a Professor of Love during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Self-professed hater of people, yet obsessed with woman, Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski, in this book, delivers a gritty field report from the Dark Underbelly of Desire during the heyday of the American Empire.

Throughout the novel, the Chinaski character remains essentially the same but the variety of women seen though his eyes is immense--ranging from a rich Texan who wants to dress him up and fly him to Paris to trailer trash who want his body, to record executive, sales clerk, dancers, artists, barely legal teeny boppers looking for strange kicks. Chinaski himself marvels at the variety of ladies who found themselves pulled into his orbit:

Where did all these women come from? The supply was endless. Each one of them was individual, different...But no man could drink them all, there were too many of them, crossing their legs, driving men mad. What a feast!

But Chinaski was no Casanova, no master of seduction. The great majority of these women were coming on to him, writing him letters, making the first moves. Although Chinaski (like Bukowski) is a minor poet, none of his poems are printed here. Chinaski's poetry readings are used in the novel merely as (usually successful) opportunities to pick up new women.

Charles Bukowski's Women seems to me to be an honest attempt to describe his life and not just a self-aggrandizing sexual fiction. At least one of Bukowski's women reciprocated his affections by writing a novel of her own entitled Blowing My Hero.

One big question for students of "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower" is what quality did Chinaski/Bukowski's character possess that made him so attractive to women? I am especially interested in women's answers to this question.

By his own admission Bukowski/Chinaski was old, fat, poor, ugly and a serious alcoholic which often rendered him impotent. His fame as a writer was small and he made no attempt to piggy-back off the fame of more famous writers, turning down, for instance, an easy opportunity to meet William S. Burroughs.

Old, fat, poor, ugly, alcoholic yet a magnet for beautiful women. Read this fascinating book and share your opinion: "What was this man's secret power?" I eagerly await your comments.

1 comment:

Nathan Hoodrich said...

"What was this man's secret power?"


"Women" was pure grandiose self-mythologizing ...