Charles Bukowski is a diversion into the mind of an outsider living the beaten-down edge of life. Bukowski is a man of wit that doesn’t strive to speak to the learned class. His writing speaks from a voice defeated by the life that surrounds it. His is a voice that just doesn’t care what you think because spending time thinking gets in the way of the important things: such as the next drink and scrounging up the cash to pay for that drink. His voice is just obscene enough that it paints a reality that is easily imaginable and through its gritty reality is a strangely pleasurable read.
“When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” (67)
The penned first-person protagonist of Bukowski’s Factotum, Henry Chianski, is an unabashed alcoholic and womanizer. The premise of Factotum is fairly simple. Chianski is a simple guy rejected from the draft traveling the country during the second World War jumping from one job to the next. He works just long enough to raise some money to pay the rent buy some liquor and find a woman to get drunk with. Chianksi (an obvious alter ego for Bukowski) is also a struggling writer, but his story told through Factotum is less the story of an aspiring writer and more the story of struggling worker and alcoholic. I would estimate that in the 205 pages of the novel’s text Chianski catalogs working and being fired from at least 30 different odd jobs such as store clerk, machinist, warehouse stock-man, and so on. His disregard for stability is blatantly nonchalant:
“I always started a job with the feeling that I’d soon quit or be fired, and this gave me a relaxed manner that was mistaken for intelligence or some secret power.” (130)
The novel reads with a driving rhythm and it is apparent that Chianksi’s alcoholism and working class struggles are a social commentary depicting a class of people rarely glamorize in artistic form. The Chianski’s of any other novel would be tragic victims or negative influences on the hero, but the Chianski of Factotum does not feign any of these high ideals: he is a man that simply is, living with who is is and what he has with no sense of ambition to become anything that he is not. Some readers may find Factotum a disappointment for it lacks true character development or plot progression. The quality of Factotum is that it stands as a documentary in novel form, a raw portrayal of a rugged and gritty reality lived by many who are often shunned or ignored.
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