Women is definitely not Bukowski at his finest, nevertheless, the book has its merits. In this book, we get a slightly different glimpse at Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's alter ego, and once we get past the same scenery in which the only thing that changes are the sets of legs spread before him, we are offered a look into a life of a man who is nearing his top game (in term of recognition) while being torn inside. Torn by the insatiable appetite to taste all the fruit forbidden to him for the first fifty years of his life, torn by the superficial attempts to fill a void, torn by his inability to attach, to be satisfied. We get the same gut-level honesty, the same raw emotions and descriptions Bukowski does so well; the same seedy neighborhoods and their protagonists; the same booze-fueled nights and sleepy days that pass in a haze. But we also get more. We get a vulnerable human being that on one hand desires to be good while on the other hand acts like a jerk. Can he help himself? Perhaps, yet he has no desire to. Some reviewers mention redemption at the end of the book. I did not see it that way. Hank became softer, yes, he did. But entering a relationship that would clearly not work in the long run is certainly not redemption. I view it more like a momentary break, a pause on his path towards self-destruction that marred Bukowski's real life.
For the most part, this book deals with sexual encounters of a random order, some lasting, some not. But are the short-lived ones an attempt to "crawl back to the womb", an attempt to find comfort and affection not allowed to him for the past five decades? Are the lasting encounters an attempt to find a woman crazier than he is, a woman more self-destructive than he is? Are those an attempt to reassure himself that there is nothing wrong with his own ways?
I loved Bukowski's own revelations and reflections in Hollywood. There was more to it than the book suggested. In Women, there is also more, but he has not yet reached a state of self-discovery, of self-observation. He is a kid in the candy store, except he is not a kid and the candy are the various women sleeping with him due to his recently acquired rock-star status. Does he suffer inside? Sure, but he does not see it that way, not yet. He, nevertheless, feels a void, he just didn't name it yet, and all the candy he get is not going to fill it.
To me, Women is a story of a man at the threshold of discovering himself. His path and method are rugged, his encounters utterly meaningless, but with each new woman that spends a night in his old, crappy bed, he inches closer to finding the lack of meaning in it all, closer to feeling something. And for this, Women makes for a good human story. It's not Factotum, Post Office, or Pulp...it's Bukowski in a relative material comfort, struggling to pull himself out of an emotional abyss.