Set in the 1940s, the plot follows Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s perpetually unemployed, alcoholic alter ego, who has been rejected from the World War II draft and makes his way from one menial job to the next (hence a factotum). Chinaski drifts through the seedy city streets of lower-class Los Angeles in search of a job that will not come between him and his first love: writing. He is consistently rejected by the only publishing house he respects, but is driven to continue by the knowledge that he could do better than the authors they publish. Chinaski begins sleeping with fellow barfly Jan, a kindred spirit he meets while drowning his sorrows at a bar. When a brief stint as a bookie finds him abandoned by the only woman with whom he is able to relate, a fling with gold-digging floozie Laura finds him once again falling into a morose state of perpetual drunkenness and unemployment.
I’ve read most of Bukowski’s work. In my humble opinion this is Bukowski at his bare-knuckle best. You can sense the desperation in his writing.
The quality of Bukowski’s poetry is questionable. His short stories are very sharp, very desperate, very amused. Tthe short stories are what Bukowski did best, while his novels are of very uneven quality. This said, the three novels of Bukowski’s trilogy (Factotum, Post Office, Hem on Rye) Hem on Rye was written and published in the late 1982 when Bukowski or his alter ego Henry Chinaski Childhoods. Post Office covers the years in which he Bukowski had a sort of regular job and regular life. Factotum is the story of the young Bukowski, the Bukowski that was rolling from a job to another, from a town to another, from a woman to another, in an impressive collections of failures–failed jobs, failed relationships, failed everything all told with a considerable amount of irony.