Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Women by Charles Bukowski


In relative terms, I'm just getting started with this whole literature thing.

In the year-and-a-half since I've become an avid reader of fiction, I've discovered a slew of fantastic authors (though I know I've barely scratched the surface of all the great novelists out there). My goal, I guess, is to sample as many different writers/books as possible, but, admittedly, I have to restrain myself in order to meet that goal.

There was a time where I planned on reading everything I could find by some of my favorite authors like John Updike and Don DeLillo, but, again, I wouldn't be able to sample much else if I only focused on the catalog of a few select authors.

Perhaps the author I'm most tempted to immerse myself with is none other than Charles Bukowski, which would be an overwhelming task because of how much material he's published in the literary world. His first novel, Post Office, ranks in my All-Time Top Five Books list, and, though my mind was telling me this one can wait, you have all these other books by other authors you haven't read yet...I couldn't resist picking up Bukowski's third novel, Women, a few weeks ago.

How I Found It: Bukowski was, as far as I can remember, the very first author my dad recommended to me when I hopped on the fiction train last year. I had Women on loan from him, and I plan on borrowing more Bukowski books from my dad in the future.

Total Reading Time: Two weeks.

Overview: It seems like every bookstore I've visited a special shelf for Charles Bukowski and a few other select authors (Kerouac and occasionally Vonnegut). You won't find him on the regular fiction/poetry sections, and I still can't decide whether I love or hate that. I guess it makes sense, considering that I'm guessing authors like Bukowski are in high demand at used bookstores, but, then again, it seems like a bit of a sales ploy.

No matter, because, as I've said, my dad has an expansive Bukowski library, which means that I have access to a large number of his works. Bukowski has one of the most distinctive writing styles I've ever come across, and I knew from Page 1 that Women was going to be another gem.

The novel, by and large, centers around Bukowski's famous alter ego, Henry Chinaski, a man who has found relative success as a writer. As the title suggests (a perfect title for this book in its simplicity, I might add), he embarks on an eye-opening amount of, er, "research" involving a large amount of eager young women that present themselves throughout the novel.

One of my favorite aspects of this book (and many of Bukowski's works in general) is his hit-and-run chapter structure. Women contains over 100 chapters, and, I wouldn't think a book would realistically be able off so many shifts in scene, setting, etc., but this one does. I have read novels where the chapters are long and meandering, leaving no place for the reader to find a reasonable spot to stop his or her reading for the night. This book is the opposite of that. I don't remember any of the chapters running longer than five or six pages (if that), and, despite their brevity, each one definitively stands alone. There aren't 100 chapters for the sake of having 100 chapters. Each, to me, give the reader glimpses into various points and events in Chinaski's life, ones that serve the overall progress of the novel. (It also serves Chinaski's initial "hit-and-run" attitude with women as well.)

When picking up Bukowski, you should expect some vulgarity. Women is chock full of it. But, like the chapter structure, it isn't vulgarity for sheer vulgarity's sake. The fact of the matter is that you're not supposed to see Chinaski as this holy character. You're supposed to be appalled by what he does at various points in the novel. Not every character has to be likable in order to be enjoyable, and I think some people forget that while reading fiction.

And, hey, by the time all is said and done, Chinaski does good. I wouldn't rank Women above Post Office in my lists, but I do think I enjoyed the ending of the former a bit more than the latter. All in all, Women is yet another home run in the catalog of Charles Bukowski.

Final Grade: A

(And I'll just leave this here for now.)

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