I asked myself several times after clicking “Add to Shopping Cart” why I had the desire to read this in the first place. I have always shouted my hatred for Bukowski from the rooftops. I have literally stood on a rooftop to do so. I’ve used quotations from his poems to highlight how problematic the Meninist movement is for scholarly writing. If I had enough nerve, I would tattoo “Fuck Bukowski” on my ass (#notreally).
But here’s the thing. In order to really appreciate great literature, to absorb it and have it impact you, I feel like you have to read the worst shit you can imagine and use it as a framing device. It’s like getting hit by a car and breaking both legs and one arm. The value you place on your good arm? Boy, are you gonna love and cherish that arm for life.
So I read Women. I like being a woman. I like reading books written by women. Most of the time, I don’t enjoy books written by men about women. Maybe this time I would be surprised. Maybe Bukowski would have me on my knees (he wishes) and groveling to his ghost, apologizing for all the terrible things I have tweeted about him (hah, no).
This was not the case. In short form, some instances in which I literally exclaimed “What the FUCK” while reading:
1. Overt and casual “othering” of minorities is probably the tamest reason I hate this book. Chinaski, Bukowski’s fictional double, basically hates “the black parts of town” as casually as people hate cream cheese on a bagel.
2. His characters are all blandly crazy. “Kenneth Mulloch was nowhere to be found- he probably was either in jail or had been committed.” He does not elaborate on anyone. Nobody with a penis is worth understanding but his central character, who brags of having 300 hangovers a year and living ‘til he’s 80 just to fuck an 18-year-old. Even then, the casual way he talks about it is just so cringe-worthy.
3. Okay. This one kept me up at night. I had to literally ask if this was a thing. In more than one instance, Chinaski sleeps with a woman and describes it as such: “I climbed on top of her. I pumped and I pumped.” “I did about 10 strokes- and came inside of her.” I don’t know any woman alive that would a) be satisfied by this number and b) WHY ARE YOU COUNTING WHY IS THIS A TIME TO COUNT THINGS WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING. Why “strokes”? Why make it so mechanized and a means to an end? He even admits to loving this woman later on (the good lord help her) and still, the sex is basically a conduit to spend time, just like drinking.
4. This guy is over 50-years-old and has never gone down on a woman in his life. Let that sink in. Let the fact that this dude admits to being singularly ego-driven and selfish to a point that it comforts him how terribly he treats women, because he can rely on the fact that they will always leave him. Satisfaction is uniquely his, until he is taught, literally, what a clitoris is. In turn, he uses this knowledge not to necessarily please, but as a device for control.
5. On the first page, Chinaski mentions having a child out of wedlock with a woman. She lives with her mother, he pays child support. No visits, no mentions that this kid exists until 200 pages later when he’s like, “Aw shit, forgot the child support. Oh well, guess I’ll pay it on Monday. Back to boozin’ and bitches!” (Disclaimer: not a literal quote but might as well be).
6. “Wriggle, little snake child!” “Child rape, finalized. They taught children well nowadays. Rapist raped. A final justice. Was she a ‘liberated’ woman? No, she was simply red hot.” I almost tore the book in half at this point. I have no remarks but pure fury. I could have punched the first man I saw if presented with one, just for the satisfaction of it.
Some small silver linings:
1. He dislikes the culture surrounding the extremely literate as being pompous and full of shit, which it is.
2. A woman named Sara, who he describes as a woman who has more common sense than any woman he’s ever known, really tells him to get his shit together and figure out how to handle a situation on his own. He’s crying to her on the phone, and she tells him to suck it up and get on with it. He’s just some writer; he is not God.
3. There are instances where Chinaski pushes the wrong button and these women flip out. And though he doesn’t express remorse, his actions show some semblance of it. He makes Sara cry and can’t eat Christmas Dinner. I guess that’s a start.
4. Chinaski gets tricked by a hooker at the airport and I have never been so smug in my whole life.
5. He says “no” to a groupie. One time. At the very end.
So, was my mind changed? Did I like anything about Women?
Nah. Bukowski’s writing style is very stark, and often feels like a how-to manual about Alcoholism and moving an old, cranky body around. The last line was literally *spoiler alert* describing a can of tuna he fed to a cat who thought he was a good guy at last. That cat is full of shit. I don’t see the depth in it that he probably saw. I see an attempt at being abstract, and a resounding failure to do so.
So Women is a litany. “20 Bitches I Fucked and Some I Didn’t Because I was TOO DAMN DRUNK.” I counted. Because hey man, if you’re counting strokes, I’m counting folks.
I don’t see what some people see in him. Some of his poetry is okay at best. (I’ll review a selection of his poetry later). I don’t feel like he “speaks the cold truth,” because I don’t like to think all men objectify women blatantly to their faces, or create sex as the end-all-be-all of becoming famous or well-known. Fairytale bullshit aside, sex for sex’s sake is boring. It’s monotonous, and many of the scenes depicted in the novel were so bland and lifeless it felt like every woman was a corpse just warm enough to deposit into and toss to the curb. I don’t see this story as a revolutionary “baring of the alcoholic, manly-man soul”. I see it as a gross oversimplification of a very problematic and popular trope that casts women as objects or insane, placing blame on them for a “good man’s” downfall.