"'That's when you need a drink most.'"
Charles Bukowski's great second novel, Factotum, a journey through the dead-end jobs and seedy bars of World War II Los Angeles. This heavily reworked typescript is inscribed and signed twice by Bukowski to Maurice Neville on the title leaf, Bukowski has drawn a picture of himself standing with a woman, a dog, a bottle, and a tree and with a bird flying toward the sun; beneath this, he has written, "To Maurie Neville — and this novel I finished. Ah, Victory!"
Early in his career Bukowski wrote and published poetry and a few short stories. In 1969, when he was 49, he was approached by John Martin, publisher of Black Sparrow Press, who convinced his to quit his dismal job at a Los Angeles post office and write full time. In return, Martin paid him a stipend $100 a month. Within weeks, Bukowski turned in the typescript for his first novel, the semi-autobiographical Post Office, which was published by Black Sparrow in 1971. Bukowski gave his main character the name Henry Chinaski. Factotum (1975) chronicles the World War II years of Chinaski/Bukowski in Los Angeles (with brief detours to New Orleans, St. Louis, New York, and Miami). Henry has been classified 4F and unfit for military service. He goes from one low-paying job to the next, always managing to get fired, while simply trying to earn enough money for booze and a minimal amount of food. He finds shelter with a series of soused B-girls, works briefly as a bookie, writes short stories. Perhaps thinking of his own arrangement with Martin and Black Sparrow, Bukowski's Chinaski observes, "But starvation, unfortunately, didn't improve art. It only hindered it. A man's soul was rooted in his stomach. A man could write much better after a porterhouse steak and drinking a pint of whisky than he could ever write after eating a nickel candy bar. The myth of the starving artist was a hoax." Bukowski remained loyal to Martin and published four more novels and numerous collections of poetry and short fiction with Black Sparrow.
Almost every page of this remarkable typescript has been revised. Some pages, in fact contain more manuscript revisions than typescript. Bukowski's revisions are in black ink and are clear and legible; copyediting is in red ink and pencil. The manuscript includes several notes to John Martin. In one dated December 1974, Bukowski (signing himself "Henry," after his alter-ego) writes, "Hello Big John — More of the novel. For some time now I've had some great self-doubts on this novel, but as it keeps unrolling, I begin to see the reason, the laughter and the big jellyroll under the moon." At the bottom of the note, he includes a caricature self-portrait with dog. Included with the typescript is a manila envelope addressed by Bukowski to Martin; on the verso is a note in pencil: "John — (Note tire marks) This was lost in street for 4 hours — It fell off my hood when I started my car & drove off. Ta, ta. Buk."
The opening paragraph of chapter 27 of Factotum helps explain the neatness of Bukowski's ink revisions: "After losing several typewriters to pawnbrokers I simply gave up the idea of owning one. I printed out my stories by hand and sent them out that way. I hand-printed them with a pen. I got to be a very fast hand-printer. It got so that I could hand-print faster than I could write. I wrote three or four short stories a week. I kept things in the mail. I imagined the editors of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper's saying: 'Hey, here's another one of those things by that nut …'"
With thousands of manuscript corrections and insertions, Bukowski's grimy, hungover City of Angels stumbles and staggers to life on the page. A remarkable artifact of late twentieth-century American counterculture literature.
"'Hell, I can't write. That's just conversation. It makes the landlady feel better. What I need is a job, any kind of job'" (Factotum, chapter 54).
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