God, I've been asking myself that very question since I was a child. I finished Factotum a few days ago, on the 24th anniversary of the day Bukowski himself came to an end on March 9th, 1994. It's funny: I finished reading Women on that very same date 2 years ago without even trying to, neither that time nor this one. Women was the first book of his that I'd ever read. This was the fourth. Next will be Hollywood, once I get around to it.
Factotum is fairly short, as is Post Office, so you get through it pretty quickly, not just because of its length, but because it's so interesting. But that's what boggles my mind: how a book that, for the most part, is so mundane can be so interesting, by virtue of mere simplicity - in simplistic dialog, drunken strolls, licentiousness, eccentric characters, bland characters, and getting canned from dull, boring, soul-sucking jobs. It was interesting reading it while looking for a job myself in this faraway land I'm in - Japan, where I've actually lived and thrived for nearly five years now - because the whole book is about Henry Chinaski (Bukowski's protagonist self) travelling from state to state, dead-end job to dead-end job, rooming house to rooming house, random woman to random woman, racetrack to racetrack, bar to bar and bottle to bottle.
"People don't need love. What they need is success in one form or another. It can be love but it needn't be." - Page 91
Yes, this book is dark, but not in any kind of Gothic way, rather in the working-class American way - a true nihilistic, hedonistic drifter's way, a future iconic writer's way. Its goal is to express the bare bones of a man who sees himself as just a cog, a mere unimportant factotum trying to get by with the self-empowering acceptance of knowing he's destined for failure at each and every one of his new places of abysmal work anyway. It gives him a feeling of freedom and invincibility, as there will always be a new job, just like there will always be a new woman, around the corner. Therefore, all he can do is take everything in stride. There is no disappointment; there is no heartbreak. How can there be for a hopelessly indifferent wanderer like Henry Chinaski (AKA Hank)? Often, it's almost like he's purposely sabotaging himself in order to get fired, usually within a few weeks of being hired. It makes sense. He hates the work and feels a sense of freedom once the termination has finally taken place. So why should he give two shits? He always has drunken stupors and short stories to get to writing anyway, thankfully for that.
And the book is funny, so that makes it good too. Not as funny as the other three I've reviewed so far, but funny. There's one scene that is so ludicrous. I mean, it's one of the most disturbingly vivid things I've ever read, of a poor young man (Chinaski) getting orally raped by an aging, overweight, washed-up prostitute, in a room he just moved into, and it involves teeth, pain, pleasure, blood, and remorse while having it done, and then paying for it afterwards without even being asked to and without having wanted it in the first place! I won't give away anymore details, but it's both hysterical and cringe-worthy at the same time. Only Bukowski.
Factotum is a book about people and the lives they lead. It's about the experiences of having met them along the way and being let in by them, either by choice or by circumstance, at least for a short amount of time before moving on. It's about the different, sometimes abject things some people have to do in order to get by and how those things shape them and make them the fascinating specimens that they are and that Bukowski deemed worthy enough for his writing. It's my least favourite of the four books of his that I've read thus far, but it's still good enough for me to give it four stars.