In FACTOTUM, Charles Bukowski follows his alter-ego Hank Chinaski through a sequence of 19 menial jobs. For each, Buk shows how Hank gets, experiences, and then loses a job, while the core activity in his life is really boozing.
Take, by the way, this description of FACTOTUM. Then, replace the subject of menial jobs with the subject of strangely worshipful women. What you get is a decent description of WOMEN, Buk's hilarious novel about the mature and successful Chinaski. For this reader, Bukowski's ability to write in such parallel structures is almost eerie.
In FACTOTUM, Bukowski presents the young Chinaski, who is just beginning to define himself as a writer and to gain some recognition for his work. In contrast, Chinaski is an established poet in WOMEN and pursued, to his incredulous delight, by attractive but crazy women, who feed his verse. While WOMEN is hilarious, the humor--in my opinion--isn't really there in FACTOTUM. Instead, this novel is a story about sly but self-destructive integrity, with the young Chinaski willing to live a very marginal existence, since this is the life that makes sense to him. I don't think Bukowski is writing with a message. Even so, young Hank is "just saying no" to work until he achieves the work that he wants.
Once again, Bukowski uses a very clear and direct style in this novel. In fact, I don't remember a single striking metaphor or simile in FACTOTUM. In a way, his writing is the opposite of his poetry (I'm reading THE ROOMING HOUSE MADRIGALS), with Bukowski seldom, if ever, pulling a wry or melancholy or thoughtful subtext out a short poetic narrative. Instead, the style in FACTOTUM is straightforward while the voice is consistently that of an alienated boozer who has "realized everything is a hoax" (page 61).
FACTOTUM is amusing but not hilarious. It is also occasionally grim, especially when Bukowski lets Hank test bottom and, oh, say, soil himself. This is an easy read and a good novel but not for the squeamish.