A tale about a sinister slug that burrows into your spine doesn’t sound like a typical Richard Laymon plot, does it? How about a sinister slug that burrows into your spine and forces you to indulge in some of the most depraved acts ever committed? Yep, now that sounds like the Richard Laymon that we have all come to love.
No one in town has ever seen anything like it: a slimy, mobile tube of glistening yellow flesh with dull, staring eyes and an obscene, probing mouth. But the real horror is not what it looks like, or what it does when it invades your flesh but what it makes you do to others.
As is the case with most Laymon stories, the action in Flesh picks up from the very first sentence as a crazed driver roams dark country roads in search of a victim. When he stumbles upon a beautiful bike riding coed, well, he has no other choice but to run her off the road and, in the process, setting himself and his van on fire. It is a very bizarre way to start a story but Laymon masterfully pulls the veil away from the reader’s eyes, as we quickly learn that the driver was being controlled by some sort of strange slug-like creature that causes it’s host to act in very violent ways. The story progresses as the slug moves from host to host- leaving a grisly trail of carnage in its path. Finally, the parasite is able to find a long-term host in Roland, a harmless horror obsessed nerd who is quickly turned into a quirky sociopath. It is at this point in the novel where Laymon shifts the story into overdrive and the audience is completely at his mercy. The protagonist, Allison, finds herself stuck in the middle of this bloody rampage as she tries to stave off Roland’s assaults. The final conflict is classic Laymon at his bloody best.
The story is very simple. In fact, it is even simple compared to Laymon’s customary lean plots but what it lacks in twists and turns, it certainly makes up for in well developed characters that help Laymon explore the darker side of human nature. See, the slug is not quite “controlling” the host as opposed to opening the door to the darker side of human nature. When Laymon gives his characters the opportunity to indulge in their darkest fantasies, the novel completely takes off. Laymon holds our faces up to the window and makes us witness scene-after-scene of bloody depravity that can only spring from the mind of a true genre master. No character (or reader for that matter)is safe as Roland launches a frenzied attack against Allison.
Of course there are certain elements that hold Flesh back a bit. The romantic subplot involving Allison seems to go stagnant which drags the pacing down in an otherwise tight and compact story. There is also a very interesting subplot involving the abduction of a child which had some serious potential but, for some inexplicable reason, this story line was abruptly dropped after a few chapters. It would have been very interesting to see this plot explored a bit further.
Flesh is not the elite caliber of work that one would find when reading The Cellar, The Woods Are Dark or The Traveling Vampire Show, but it is a superb example of Laymon’s mastery over the genre and a testament to his ability to craft one entertaining tale. It adds a bizarre element (the slug) to the tried-and-true Laymon recipe that is hefty amounts of gore spiced with steamy sensuality- all being prepared by one of the best that has ever put pen to paper.