Flowers And Flesh, by J.X. Williams
1968, Pleasure Reader
I'm definitely trawling some forgotten fiction depths here. This has to be the most forgotten genre of all: hippie porn fiction. Flowers And Flesh is pretty rare and goes for big bucks, so I wouldn't advise seeking it out; it's certainly not worth the money sellers ask for.
For a pre-Woodstock cash-in on the hippie generation, the novel's actually pretty prescient in that the hippies are just as clueless as the older generation they rebel against. Our "hero" is Captain Kosmos, a hippie guru who descends on a midwestern town with his legions of followers, vowing to "save" them from their boring lives. His nemesis at first is local high school jock Joe, who after some LSD sex with his turned-on girlfriend becomes Kosmos's best pal and co-leader. Together they build a permanent commune outside the town, for hippies from all over to flock to.
The novel is more of a serialized affair, with Kosmos going on one crazy adventure after another. And it's a strange mix. For, moments after preaching peace and love, Kosmos is killing off his Hell's Angels enemies and murdering innocent townspeople who mock his hippie lifestyle. And for a hippie, Kosmos is as rich as Howard Hughes; he flies around in his own helicopter, dropping fragmentation grenades on his enemies. (There's a gruesome sequence where he puts a frag grenade in an old farmer's mouth and clamps shut the man's mouth as the grenade explodes, which goes beyond anything I've ever read in a men's adventure novel!)
Strange too is the way this book is written. "J.X. Williams" (a psuedonym, it goes without saying) proves himself capable of writing some great dialog and some truly mystical blather -- several times Kosmos preaches to his flock and the writing here excels. In fact, Kosmos' blather put me in the mind of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain, and his plea that everyone yield to the "sex force" Ka gives the novel an extra push, as if Williams knows more than he lets on. But for every moment like that, there will be another that seems to have come from a different author, a dashed-off and middling sequence filled with spelling errors and terrible dialog. I get the impression these bits are just padding, there to fill up the page count.
And guess what else fills up most of the page count? That's right, sex. There's a ton of sex in Flowers And Flesh. What more could you expect from a good ol' "stroke book?" But here's the thing...the sex here is pretty repulsive. There's nothing erotic about any of the plentiful sex scenes; people just screw, and that's it -- none of the purple prose one might expect from such shenanigans. And the sex scenes that are described are usually pretty gross, there for shock value...or something. Really, this aspect of the novel mystifies me. I mean, who was this book for? If it was for the "raincoat crowd" looking for some literary porn, then they would be dissatisfied; there was much more erotic and explicit stuff being published in mainstream literature (remember, this was the era of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susan).
I'm also confused about the mash-up of Kosmos' bicameral mentality. Throughout the novel he kills with glee, and then moments later he preaches love. I assumed this was Williams spoofing the hippie movement, following the old saw that beneath their LSD pacifism they were all just a bunch of nazis, but the thing is, this whole aspect is never addressed. I kept waiting for Kosmos to get some sort of comeuppance, but it never happened. Which is a shame, because the entire novel comes off like a satire -- Kosmos destroys an entire town without worry, but pages later freaks out because the cops show up at his doorstep and he's afraid they're going to find his dope stash.
Anyway, I'm giving this novel more thought than it deserves. It's clunky, trashy, seems to have been printed straight from the original typewriter manuscript, and is only occasionally enlivened by some psuedo-guru prose. The sex scenes add nothing, the action scenes are flat because they lack any realism, and the characters are caricatures -- bad ones at that.