FLOWER POWER by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1968, The Paperback Library, 160pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: Phyllis Greenfield was sweet sixteen – and never been stoned. Life was passing her by. So she ran away from her comfortable home in Cleveland, Ohio, and went to Haight-Ashbury to make the Underground Scene. There she met Furman, a young Black acid-head who wanted to be a FBI agent – or at least a member of the Hell’s Angels. Furman rechristened her “Flower” and brought her to his crash pad where she settled down to making the protest rallies with Me, a mystic love-child who took her to a swinging guru. And Signal, who caught special vibrations by making sex a mixed-media happening. And Tripper, who convinced her that LSD was the only ticket to visiting Inner Space. Flower was grooving in the switched-on life until one day the straight and the hippie worlds clashed in a battle that taught her the true meaning of FLOWER POWER!
Ernest Tidyman’s debut novel was published six months before he signed a contract with Macmillan to write Shaft. At the time, Tidyman was working as a freelance writer and magazine editor. He wanted to write a novel that would connect with the fashion of the time and so he came up with this story of a young girl exploring free-spirited communal living in the hippy culture of San Francisco.
Tidyman invests time in his characters and adds touches of humour throughout, but the story is slight at best. The book was very much of its time and many of the situations and characters will seem stereotypical today – the experimentation with drugs and sex; the Indian karma influences; the garden of home grown marijuana and the open-house approach to living. The first half of the book concentrates on Phyllis and her transformation to Flower whilst living with her small group of new friends. Once this is established the book opens up to bring in a wider group of characters including a motorbike gang, FBI agents and corrupt cops. The whole thing culminates at a party hosted by Flower and her friends where all these elements collide in true crazy sixties fashion.
Tidyman prefers an observational approach to his writing here, without getting too deeply engrossed in the politics of what these youngsters are about. indeed they all seem lost in one way or another and none of them really find their answers – they merely move on to the next adventure. Whilst this may be an accurate portrayal of the hippy movement in its free-spirited mentality of living for the now – it leaves the book’s character stories incomplete. Like the characters, the reader is left to feel they have spent time in a strange new world but then simply moved on feeling unfulfilled.