"Passion and Betrayal," by Gennifer Flowers with Jacquelyn Dapper. 166 pages. Del Mar, Calif.: Emery Dalton Books. $19.95 She's back. And for those who thought Gennifer Flowers was just another piece of white trash from Arkansas, "Passion and Betrayal," the autobiography of the woman who inspired the phrase "bimbo eruption," will come as a welcome surprise. Ms. Flowers, it turns out, is not only a bosomy ex-lounge singer (she displays about a foot and a half of cleavage in the dust-jacket photo) but the creator of a potentially significant new literary genre: presidential pornography.
Strong words, admittedly, but Ms. Flowers delivers the goods - with a vengeance, one might even say. In the course of "Passion and Betrayal," she discusses in exhaustive detail President Clinton's erotic preferences, which range from phone sex to light bondage; offers an impressionistic description of the size of his penis; explains how cocaine "made his scalp itch"; and confesses that he gave her money for an abortion when she became pregnant with his child. In an unprintable passage that is likely to melt several hundred Washington fax machines, Ms. Flowers also "quotes" the President on the alleged non-Euclidean sexual interests of his wife. (Interested readers will find it on page 41.)
To be sure, "Passion and Betrayal" has more to offer than just a crotch-level view of Bill Clinton. It also contains invaluable insights into family values in Arkansas ("It was a bitter, nasty divorce. Daddy brought a stripper to town from New Orleans, Mother had her investigated, and everyone was dragged into court"), plus an indelible word portrait of Hillary Clinton in her pre-presidential days ("She had big, thick glasses; an ugly dress; and a big, fat butt").
Nor does Ms. Flowers ignore the Aristotelian unities. This is a story of disillusion, a journey from innocence to experience. At the beginning of her affair with Bill Clinton, Ms. Flowers was starry-eyed: "I had just had the greatest sex of my life with the most remarkable man I had ever met. He left his undershirt for me to hold through the night so that I could keep his scent close to me even after he was gone." At book's end, she is a sadder but wiser girl: "I thought what we had was a real relationship between two passionate, caring people, but I learned otherwise. In the end, he turned out to be nothing more than a Cardboard Bill . . . a flat, two-dimensional piece of hardened paper, empty of all feelings."
Even so, the bedroom is never very far away in the pages of "Passion and Betrayal." This is, pure and simple, a book about sex, and if one of the sexual partners in question were not the President of the United States, one may take leave to doubt that Ms. Flowers' publisher (who, significantly, is located not in New York but California) would have ordered up a first printing of 100,000 copies.
There is, of course, the little matter of veracity. Is Ms. Flowers telling the truth about her relationship with Bill Clinton? Probably. Despite their tight-lipped public silence on the matter, most members of the Washington press corps are reportedly in agreement that the President was a major-league philanderer during his Arkansas days. Does it matter? You'll have to decide ** that one for yourself, though I myself incline to think poorly of the judgment of a man capable of having a decade-long affair with a woman capable of giving his penis a pet name (Willard, if you must know).
In the end, though, these matters must take a back seat to the larger literary implications of "Passion and Betrayal." It can only be a matter of time before other authors realize that Gennifer Flowers has done the republic of letters a major service: Thanks to her, it is now demonstrably possible to write and publish genuinely dirty books about sitting politicians. Another taboo is broken - and about time, too.
Terry Teachout is arts columnist of the New York Daily News, editor of "A Second Mencken Chrestomathy." His books include "City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy." He writes about classical music for Commentary, ballet and modern dance for the New Dance Review, books for the New York Times Book Review, opera for Opera News and jazz for the Wall Street Journal. He is currently at work on a biography of H. L. Mencken.