Women, Charles Bukowski


Bukowski books are dog-eared pages and underlines. That’s good and bad. Let me explain:

Summary: Charles Bukowski was a poet. This is a book about women. It is religiously one-directional – it is about an old, depressed alcoholic’s imagination of women. It doesn’t try to see the other side and it doesn’t try to say anything ‘progressive.’ Because of that, it can be a difficult read – lots of talk of ‘murdering’ young girls while sleeping with them. However, it reads a hell of a lot more honest than modern left-leaning books by elite white men who think they know something (looking at you George Saunders).

The Good: Charles Bukowski was a poet. I’ve never read his poetry, just his novels and short prose. Still, the moniker shows. Women catches you. Henry Chinaski (a stand-in Bukowski) is a bastard. He knows it, revels in it, and despises it. Here’s a passage: “Iris was in for another old-fashioned horse fuck. Love was for guitar players, Catholics and chess freaks. That bitch with her red shoes and long-stockings – she deserved what she was going to get from me.”
Unsettles you, right? And it should, and Bukowski knows this and so does Chinaski. Something universal comes from the worst places, and Bukowski knows how to left-hook you with lines like “Love was for guitar players.” You’re wondering if you could ever learn to play the guitar.

The Bad: Charles Bukowski was a poet. In a 300 pg book, some of the tricks of poetry don’t read as well. Just about every other affair Chinaski gets into – and he has a lot of affairs – leads to a short passage about the first fuck where he can’t get it up, gets very apologetic, the woman goes to the bathroom, washes up, then he thinks something dirty and finishes. It’s cyclical, a mantra. I’m sure that’s intentional, and you do get something out of the repetition – the whole book (and maybe all of Bukowski’s prose) evokes being trapped in a grimy, down-to-earth monotony. However, by the sixth or seventh passage that reads almost word for word on flaccid dicks and hard stroking, we’re getting bored. Pull off something like that in short form (poetry) and you leave a reader feeling mesmerized. Hammer it in over 300 pages and you’ve got me putting the book down for weeks at a time, struggling to catch a breath.

Final Thoughts: No-one did it like Bukowski. He’s not perfect, but that’s part of the appeal. For my money, there hasn’t been a more important writer since. ‘Better’ writers, arguably, but not as important. If you want to confront all of your demons, laugh about them, and walk away feeling stuck in place but growing at the same time, Women is a good read. Just make sure you’re ready for some tedious prose and raw, problematic content.