Factotum traces the life of Henry Chinaski, an itinerant worker, who is struggling to become an established writer in America during the 1940s and 1950s. Through the novel Chinaski tells the story of how, in a perennial alcoholic fog, drifts from city to city, trying and discarding jobs and women.Factotum begins with Chinaski arriving in New Orleans to escape his restrictive hometown of Los Angeles and his conservative father. He lives in a dodgy boarding house and attempts to write, coming to the realization that myth of the starving artist is a hoax. ‘I remembered my New Orleans days, living on two-cent candy bars a day for weeks at a time in order to have the leisure to write. But starvation, unfortunately, did not improve art. It only hindered it. A man’s soul was rooted to his stomach.’ Although many of the events are based on Bukowski’s own experiences before he became a famous writer, the writing is at its heart fictional. In its eighty-seven micro chapters, the novel describes the anti-hero moving from one shitty job, boarding house, girlfriend to the next. Most of the jobs are as a shipping clerk where he can sneak out for a drink, fall asleep on the job or boink one of the clerical ladies.
The prose is clear, concise and often spoken directly to the reader to create a greater sense of immediacy- a characteristic of Bukowski’s writing style. However, the story is not laid out chronologically but is more of a collection of jumbled anecdotes held together, effectively channeling the novel’s aspirational voice.
Bukowski’s view of women as sex toys reveals its ugly head in the novel frequently (very cringe-y). A neighbour knocks at Chinaski’s door for flowers following the death of a tenant. ‘I was sitting up,in my shorts, holding the blanket in from of me. Chinaski the great lover. If I was any kind of man, I thought, I would rape her, set her panties on fire, force he to follow me all over the world, make tears come to her eyes with my love letters written on light red tissue paper.’ (!!!!)
His inability to feel love or empathy is furthered in his cold description of making love to Jan. ‘There was enough meanness and hostility in her to make me feel that with each thrust I was paying her back for her ill-temper.’
There is a rare moment of humour and sentiment when Jan fits a little paper hat over his man-parts and ties a yellow ribbon around the brim. But of course that doesn’t last long as he viciously slaps her across the face and says, ‘I tried to make a woman out of you but you’ll never be anything but a god-damned whore!’
Jan leaves his ass (pardon the language) and fittingly, he spends his last dollar alone in a strip club.
I don’t know why I wanted to read this.
I don’t know why I finished it.
I didn’t enjoy it at all.