63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
"Factotum," the novel by Charles Bukowski, describes the wanderings of aspiring writer Henry Chinaski across the United States during the World War II era. Categorized as "4-F," Chinaski doesn't serve in the military and instead wanders from city to city, from one odd job to another. Along the way Bukowski describes his run-ins with the police, his sexual adventures, and his drinking.
I found "Factotum" to be episodic and to lack the focus and impact of Bukowski's excellent novel "Post Office," also featuring Chinaski. But "Factotum" is still a good read with some really stunning passages. Bukowski seems to be deromanticizing the "myth of the starving artist," which he calls a "hoax," in this book. I only wish that "Factotum" featured more about Chinaski's vocation as a writer; I found the parts of the book that focused on his identity as a writer to be the most interesting parts.
"Factotum" is particularly interesting in its context as a novel of the World War II era which deals with the U.S. homefront, but in an entirely unromantic and detached way. Bukowski's prose is often quite vivid; one encounter with a rather scary prostitute is a particular gem of Bukowski's raw, in-your-face style. Overall, a solid work by one of America's most distinctive writers.
58 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2005
The quality of Bukowski's poetry is questionable. His short stories are very sharp, very desperate, very amused. Tthe short stories are what Bukowski did best, while his novels are of very uneven quality.
This said, the three novels of Bukowski's trilogy (Factotum, Post Office, Women) are his best novels and factotum is the best of the three. Women was written and published in the late 1970s when Bukowski or his alter ego Henry Chinaski was already an establihsed professional writer. Post Office covers the years in which he Bukowski had a sort of regular job and regular life.
Factotum is the story of the young Bukowski, the Bukowski that was rolling from a job to another, from a town to another, from a woman to another, in an impressive collections of failures--failed jobs, failed relationships, failed everything all told with a considerable amount of irony.
It's a very interesting read, to say the least. Five stars.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2001
This is the third book of Bukowski's that i have read (the first two were "Post Office" and "Hollywood") and thus far it is my favorite.
This book is composed of a series of short passages, 87 total. This book is mostly about Henry Chinaski (meaning, for the most part, Charles Bukowski) drinking, having sex with women who drink, and moving from job to job. I dont know how many jobs Chinaski has in this book, but he often holds them only long enough for a single one-page section.
If there is any unity in terms of story and plot in this book, it is found in the women, such as Jan and Laura, who manage to stay in Chinaski's life for a few jobs; the women serve to string together the sections.
More significant than any plot are the various interwoven themes that Bukowski deals with, such as futility, solitary existence, and death (all themes that might lead us to link Bukowski with existentialist philosophy). These ideas (among others) are all related, and also related to the ways in which they are expressed, namely, through alcohol, cheap sex, disgust towards humanity, and peacefulness in the strangest situations-- and of course, Henry Chinaski's inability to hold a job or even have any desire to do so. On one hand, this book is a quick and light read; on the other hand, a close read that keeps in mind the interplay between the different themes involved truly exposes the genius of Bukowski.
Overall, this is a book that for the most part ends where it begins (it begins with Chinaki arriving in New Orleans and "looking for the poor section" and ends in a go-go bar, with Chinaski holding his last 38 cents), but this circularity, i find, is intimate to the theme of futility: why go anywhere? why do anything? As Bukowski writes in the movie "Barfly", "Who made up this rule that everybody has to 'be somebody'?" Chinaski doesn't refuse to "be somebody" (remember, he has a great will to write), but he refuses to do it in terms set by other people; he refuses to define himself in terms of occupation, and other surface illusions--as to be somebody in such a way, he finds, is far too confining. On a side note, it seems as if Bukowski lifted a lot of material from this book when writing the script for "Barfly," as Laura becomes Wanda in the film and both the book and the film have Wilbur, among other similarities. Overall, this is a fine book that is both an enjoyable read and constantly impresses the reader with clever insights into what we often take as ordinary.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2007
World War II, America and Henry Chinaski. This is Factotum. Charles Bukowski brings his alter ego, Henry Chinaski, back to life in this phenomenal work and with it, he puts himself and society on trial.
A lot, perhaps too much, has been said about Bukowski and his work. While I truly enjoy his short stories the most, Factotum, along with post Office, are among my favorite books written by American authors. Bukowski's writing is simple and straight-to-the-point, and Factotum is no exception. Filled with short, sometimes paragraph-like chapters, the writing flows smoothly, gently sneaking under your skin, and before you know it you start to care and you start to see the world through Chinaski's eyes. A world, which, for the most part, has not improved over the past sixty years. Perhaps his truths are universal. One thing hit me in particular: Chinaski goes to the American Cancer Society, only to be given an appointment three weeks later. He mentions that all his life he has been told to catch cancer early, but when it comes to it, he is told to wait three weeks. Last year I went through pretty much the same thing, only to have to wait for an appointment for over four months. Fortunately, it was not cancer, but if it was...what is the point.
Anyway, back to Factotum. Chinaski, being a "4-F" as he states, was exempt from the draft which left him behind, free to look for a job and settle down. Only the restless soul is incapable of settling down. A struggling writer, (writing several short stories by hand each week, which shows great inspiration and capability) he does not have much else to live for. Submerged in booze, smoking, and having sex, he kills time between odd jobs, while waiting to be discovered. However, this is not the point of the story. The story itself is the loose journal of a man struggling with himself and the changes our society was undergoing at that time. Chinaski was not a man who knew what he wanted. As long as his basic needs were met, (Booze, cigarettes, sex, and the occasional meal) he was happy -- relatively happy, or rather unconcerned with the world. He mentions the war in the terms of there being less people applying for the jobs, yet it does not make the jobs easier to get. He chooses jobs which require minimum effort, be it physical (when possible) or mental (always), because he cannot be bothered. Considering his arrest record, he knows he cannot get a "good" job, for they require a background check, so he settles for the other jobs -- shipping clerk, janitor, warehouseman, factotum.... He drinks during the day, he writes at night, he fights at bars, and he drinks more. When he has money, he buys a good whiskey; when he doesn't, he settles for a rotgut wine. He treats women the same way he treats his bottle -- as long as he can get it, it's good. His women, with the exception of a few random "quickies", are not much different than him, only less inspired. Chinaski lives this way because he chooses to, because he cannot be bothered. And why should he.
How many of us wasted years and perhaps decades chasing after something that seemed important to us, yet it really wasn't? How many of us do something we hate or dislike only for the sake of "appearances"? We are all guilty of that. As a society, we look down on the bum standing at a corner, holding a fifth wrapped in a paper bag; we look down on the men who move from place to place, unable to hold jobs, unable to start a family, the men who do inferior work. How many of us ever stopped to think why...to see if they maybe chose to do that, if they have a reason. Chinaski had two years of college, yet he worked as a janitor. It was not from laziness, it was a conscious choice. He did not have faith in the system, he did not want to be part of the system; he simply wanted means of making some money to fulfill his needs. Factotum is a portrait of a broken society, of an era of broken dreams. Factotum is not the "great American novel", but it is a novel full of timeless truth, full of humanity. Chinaski may be dirty and drunk, but he does what he wants, he pursues his dream. He is not trying to change the world, and he does not want the world to change him. Where Kerouac goes on and on for pages about "beauty", Bukowski delivers a short sentence, but always hitting the nail straight on its head, keeping it simple, raw and gritty -- sometimes poetic, sometimes disgusting -- but that is what life is after all.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2002
I'm going to keep this review short and simple for you. This is the second book Bukowski wrote, and its a really good place to start if you are looking to get into Bukowski. The book is filled with short chapters that involve the years Bukowski called his "ten year drunk." The book chronicles his road trip around the United States, just at the time he was starting to become famous.
Its a quick read that includes many of the offbeat and unique observations that this guy makes about the world. You'll laugh every page.
Be careful, though. Reading Bukowski can completely change the way you look at things. The day after reading this book you'll have a little less regard for the little things that usually bother people, and a little more confidence in yourself.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 1999
When it comes to putting down on paper how it feels to be a loner, and yet not alone.How it feels to be on the brink of madness from the mundaneness of life . Well then nobody does it quite like Bukowski. The beauty of his work is that you are unsure where the boundaries between fiction and fact are. Sure we know that his main character 'Henry Chinaski' is just his own alias. But Bukowski when asked whether his work is completely autobiographical would say ' No, I write fiction . Which is reality improved upon.
I can assure the first time reader , of Bukowski's work that you are in for a treat (as well as a few shocks). Bukowski lived life on his terms , and you may not like the moral universe he created for himself , but he didn't take the easy route , and you got to respect that.
So go ahead buy it. But watch out. For a drunken loser who liked nothing more than to nurse a bottle of the ole Grape , the man was prolific. And once you read a little Bukowski you just gotta have some more.
P.S. Oh by the way , it would have been nice for Charles to have written his life life in clearly defined episodes but unfortunately (probably on purpose) he did not .So if you are not careful you will read the story of an old lecher before you read about the boy. Try Ham and Rye (Henry Chinaski's early years), that starts the mayhem that was Bukowski's life.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2005
I've read most of Bukowski's work. In my humble opinion this is Bukowski at his bare-knuckle best. You can sense the desperation in his writing. He's young and hungry. Still a contender. I wonder what happened to the elf. I think that I worked with him at Harris Bakery in Maine many years ago.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
I am sure that by now this book has been thoroughly reviewed by many, many people, and much of what I will say will simply be in tune with the chorus, but I just got done reading Factotum and seeing the movie, both in the same day, and I was completely blown away.
First of all, the movie is very true to the book and Matt Dillon makes an excellent Hank. The actresses also are good representations of the women in the book. The major problems I have is that, like it or not, and I think future generations will bear this out more and more, Factotum is a period piece, and should not have been set in the present day. Also, in the film Jan ends up with the guy that was at the racetrack that day, a conclusion that the book did not draw. Several other things were skipped over in the movie, which would have moved it into the NC 17 category had they been included, and after reading the book, the movie seems like an extremely sanitized version of the events in the book.
The book itself: it is a fascinating read. I am not a very good reader and I do not read even a book a year. 99% of the time I will not get past page 20 in a book and I've quit buying them. Until Factotum. Such an easy and entertaining read that I did it in one day.
Hank is a person who travels around from town to town, job to job, drinks a lot, and has some strange experiences and observations of people. That is the best synoposis I can offer. Once you get into his life, into his era, into his urban environment filled with strange and unusual people and circumstances, you don't want to leave. What is around the next corner?!?! Also this book, aside from having remarkable insites about the people he is around, is quite humorous. Probably too sexually explicit for your local university's 20th C. Fiction class, and high school is out of the question.
I'd rather not say much else about the book lest I ruin it. See the movie and if it intrigues you as it did me, then read the book. I can't speak of any other Bukowski novels....yet.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was an underground writer of poems stories, and novels who has exerted a fascination over me for many years. He is best known for his portrayals of the shabby, dingy side of Los Angeles. His reputation has grown subsequently to his death. Many of his works originally were published by a small publishing house, Black Sparrow Press which specialized in unusual writers, A few years ago, Black Sparrow was purchased by a HarperCollins which continues to maintain Bukowski's works in print and to publish posthumous works.
This reprint of "Factotum" was released by HarperCollins this month to capitalize on the movie version of Factotum. I read it eagerly in anticipation of seeing the movie, which premiered at independent film festivals before its commercial release. Earlier Bukowski movies include "Barfly" (1987) and the documentary "Bukowski: Born into This" (2004).
Factotum (1975)is Bukowski's second novel, and its main character is Bukowski's alter ego, named Henry Chinaski. The word 'factotum" means "A person having many diverse activities or responsibilities" or "a general servant". These definitions, particularly the second, capture much of the spirit of the novel. Chinaski is a young man, down and out, who has been rejected for the draft during WW II. In short, fast-moving chapters, the novel chronicles Chinaski's search for work crossing back and forth throughout the United States.
The novel is gritty, raw and tough. Chinaski is hardly a hero as he loses one dead-end job after another and throws away the few possible opportunities that come his way. Chinaski is solitary and anti-social. He drinks heavily and plays the horses. He takes up with women and generally drops them as quickly as he meets them. He leads the life of a drifter, loner, and outsider.
Without prelude or introduction, the book opens as Chinaski arrives "in New Orleans in the rain at 5"o'clock in the morning" and is quickly accosted by "a high yellow sitting on the porch steps swinging her legs". He goes through a series of jobs and shabby hotels before embarking on a journey that takes him to Texas, Los Angeles, his hometown, New York City, Philadelphia, St Louis and, finally back to Los Angeles. At the end, we see Chinaski, frustrated and angry fantasizing over a dancer in a burlesque house.
Chinaski loses a litany of jobs, including working as a janitor, window washer, shipping clerk, baker's helper, assistant in a dog buscuit factory, and similar ventures. He either quits, or, more often, is fired for absenteeism, attitude, fighting, and drinking. He has affairs with a variety of women, the most prominent of whom in this book is Jan, with whom he has an on again off again relationship punctuated by alcohol, horseracing, fighting, and Jan's affairs with other men.
Chinaski is an aspiring writer, when he is not drinking or otherwise occupied, and the book includes a scene in which a short story is accepted for publication. Writing and reflection are used, as is so often the case, as a way to understand and distance oneself from a shabby, difficult life. There are many lively, funny scenes in Factotum. Chinaski does not ask for sympathy and gives none. The story is toughly and unapologetically told. The book gives the impression of an individual deeply down on himself and on others who sees himself as fighting and carrying on simply to live his life for what it is.
Bukowski is a vulgar, raw author who will not appeal to everyone. But I continue to be taken with him and with Factotum. The book exerts a pull that I can't shake off.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2011
Charles Bukowski, like Henry Miller, can be credited with doing away with the picturesque myth of the starving artist. Factotum, though it may be a physically thin book, is heavy, soaked and dripping with lyrical depictions of gritty realism and coldly honest truth, which may be something about how being unemployed and poor really, really sucks.
Factotum, Bukowski's second novel, reads less like a novel than of a series of mostly short episodes that make up the life of Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's protagonist and alter-ego. Nevertheless, this is what it's pretty much about: Chinaski, circa 1944, has been rejected from the World War II draft and, unable to make something of his life by fighting, spends his time drinking, wandering whichever town he's in, having sex with a barfly here or there, doing a little writing, looking for work, getting jobs and (subsequently) losing jobs. He isn't interested in actually working at all and wants to be able to support himself by writing. This is all pretty autobiographical, as Bukowski went through the same stuff. Chinaski's inability or unwillingness to get through the day without a drink or twelve, plus his ambition to keep writing for a living as his priority, plus (again) his total antagonism toward physical labor, keeps him perpetually unemployed for much of the story. Every now and then he gets a job and makes enough money to get by.
What seems to get the story rolling a little more is his meeting different women here and there, particularly Jan, a girl with some of the same problems as himself (and for whom he seems to show genuine affection), and Laura, a gold-digger who introduces Chinaski to her rich sort-of boyfriend. Much (if not most) of Bukowski's writing is autobiographical and as I read this book I wondered if all of these characters were based on real people, if the conversations really took place, if everything Chinaski does in the novel is/was based on something Bukowski did in real life; if they were true, I'd wonder about those people, not out of shock, but out of something almost like concern or care. I don't know. Bukowski really makes these characters come alive, despite some of the dialogue being a little sparse in places. You still seem to get a feel for them, even when they're particularly horrible to one another.
That brings up something else: part of the whole rejection-of-the-starving-artist-myth-as-picturesque-thing means having to get pretty down and dirty. Factotum, like a lot of Bukowski's stuff, is grim as hell. Most of the encounters are things I'd never wish on anyone. The book can get seriously depressing and I don't recommend this book if you've been saddened by anything in your recent lifetime or are taking medication or drinking a lot.
Then again, Bukowski really succeeds in making you care about the characters once you've been around them long enough. You get the feeling that, even when Chinaski and Jan argue over this or that, they end up spending enough time together that they really do actually genuinely seriously care deeply about each other. And they KNOW it and they WANT it. They're like an old married couple, sort of, in they way they've gotten to know each other so well over time that they almost wouldn't know what to do if one of them left forever. It's sad in a way. Actually, it's sad in several ways.
That said, it's definitely worth your time to read Factotum. Some say Post Office is Bukowski's best novel, but I don't know, I think I like this one a little more. It's unforgiving and yet it's somehow redemptive, to get so real and honest and into places you've never been before, and then suddenly you come out on the other side and see that you've somehow made it. This book does that to you.