Saturday, December 31, 2011

Petals on the Wind: Baseless Speculation on Andrews, Education, and the Rise of the Boarding School from Hell

We're getting up on Carrie's time in the Boarding School from Hell.  The following was originally appended to that review, but it ran a little long, so I'm putting it here.  It's mostly my thoughts upon V.C. Andrews and a recurrent motif.

Andrews herself suffered a crippling back injury while still in high school.*  She spent the rest of her teenage years--and indeed, the rest of her life--at home with her mother.  Andrews was academically gifted while in school, skipping a couple of grades and winning a scholarship.  After leaving school, she received an art degree via correspondence course, and later she became a very well-read, self-educated woman.  But she never had the full experience of public education, which at that time had only recently become a widespread, mandatory thing.  Mandatory public education through high school was a huge step in creating the modern concept of the teenager, of extended childhood, and of youth culture; prior to then, you only went to high school if you intended to go to college.  In a way, Andrews was a girl interrupted, cut off from that important source of social interaction, peer groups, and popular culture.     
Likewise, her heroines tend to hang around the house a lot.  They pass through school completely unscathed, with no friends, homework, extra-curricular activities, or diplomas to show for it.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but school just isn't as interesting as staying home and fucking your brother.  As if to compensate, all her heroines invariably have innate skills that make education redundant.  Cathy is naturally good at dancing, even without formal training.  Audrina's intuition allows her to successfully game the stock market.**  Heaven, the only one who seriously pursues education, happens to be so bright that she can cruise through school without much effort, leaving her time open for sexy plot-related pursuits.

It became something of an Andrews cliche--the What Amazing Talent Will This Heroine Have? game--but considering that the author herself became an extremely successful author and artist without the benefit of education and everything that comes with it, perhaps this was an aspect that Andrews took for granted. 

Cathy's entire high school experience (and her ballet training) is summed up with a few generic, easily-skimmed paragraphs.  She makes exactly one friend, who is never mentioned again.  Audrina, whose stated life-goals include attending school like a normal girl, spends one chapter establishing that school does, in fact, exist.  Later in the same chapter, she also makes a single friend, whose name we never learn.

Heaven, who latches onto education as the only way of ever improving her lot in life, has several scenes of the children at school and includes an almost pathetically heartrending description of her gratitude at receiving special permission to take schoolbooks home to study.  The book even devotes time to Heaven's teacher, who has taken a personal interest in Heaven's family situation.  It's significant as one of the few times in the novels where an adult female is portrayed as anything other than a threat to the heroine.  As soon as Heaven is removed from that situation, however, her education becomes so much wallpaper, to only emerge again when she herself experiences the Boarding School from Hell.

Finally, in almost every book, the Andrews heroine ends up completely marginalizing both her magical, special talent and her education simply because her family is always, always rich.  She never needs to work for a living.  The "magical talent" becomes a sideline, a hobby.  Cathy probably comes closest to actually using her talent for profit when she becomes a successful stage performer, and later teaches ballet to children, but by the time she is a full adult, her husband supports the family.  It's kind of a let-down, really.  One of the reasons we presumably root for these women is because they do have something special to give to the world.  To have their hard work undermined by something as crass as millions upon millions of dollars kind of gives an idea of the true value of their talent: rather than unlimited wealth freeing them to pursue their dreams, the heroines simply give up their dreams in exchange for a life amongst the leisure class.

One could argue that this is also the primary lesson of the entirety of Flowers in the Attic: that the children, as well as their mother, were willing to sacrifice something intangible and precious--their normal lives--in exchange for a shot at never having to work for a living, and the subsequent danger and emptiness of that decision.  It's hard to say if this lesson, coming as it does from a woman who did make a successful career of what could arguably be described as her art, is meant to be a warning to us all, or if it is uncomfortably cold, cynical, and unsettling.

*Andrews constantly gave out in interviews that she was twenty years younger than she was, a fiction that would have made her about sixteen in the early 1960s . . . thus making her precisely Cathy's age. If any of you ever wondered if Cathy was supposed to be an analogue for the author, consider that suspicion confirmed.

**More fun facts: V.C. Andrews herself was an avid player of the stock market.  She had a ticker machine installed in her mother's home and frequently relied on her own "intuition" to make successful investments.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Petal on the Wind, Part Three: Every Man in This Book is a Freakin' Rapist

I, um, kind of had a complete meltdown in this section?  I apologize in advance, and really, I tried to make it as relevant as possible to the subject at hand, since it touched on a theme that is going to carry on through the remainder of . . . well, all of the books.  Because when I say "every man in this book is a rapist," I'm not talking in the Andrea Dworkin all-sex-is-rape sense.  I mean that literally every man in this book is a freakin' rapist.  

Wait, I take it back.  There is one man who is not a freakin' rapist.  But he's very much a sideline character, he only appears for one chapter, and he vanishes without a trace immediately afterwards.  I say this like he's some big mystery character, but really, he's just so inconsequential that I can't be arsed.*

So, in a nutshell, we're going to be talking about rape, a conversation that was bound to happen considering that every man in this book is a freakin' rapist.  I don't know how we avoided it this long, honestly. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where the F**k did the Trunchbull bury Cory's picnic basket in Flowers in the Attic

I have recently learned the joys of my stat box. This is how I tell how you--yes, you! there! in front of the computer!--found this blog.

Here, then, are the top five burning searches that lead people to the blog-o-rama:

The Trunchbull/pictures of the Trunchbull: The Trunchbull is this blog's common name for the grandmother from Flowers in the Attic.  Alas, this blog does not discuss Matilda or any other work by Roald Dahl (even though Matilda is one of my favorite books and Roald Dahl is one of my favorite authors).  Cathy later changes her stage name to Dahl, but I'm sure that's unrelated.

what the fuck am I reading?  Brother, we've all been asking ourselves that one.

cory buried flowers attic:   It is never explicitly stated what became of Cory's body.  In Flowers, Corrine claims to have had him buried under a false name.  Later, adult!Cathy goes searching through records to find where Cory might have been buried, but finds that there weren't even any records of any male children Cory's age who died on that particular day in the state.  When Cathy confronts her mother, Corrine admits that Cory died before reaching the hospital and that she disposed of his body in a ravine. 

But then, the mysterious and confusing part kicks in (and it's part of one of Andrews's irritating habits that I'll explicate more fully when the actual scene happens): Cathy claims to have discovered a mysterious room in the attic, a room with a strong odor of decay and death.  The implication, obviously, is that Corrine hid her son's body up there and zOMG, Cory never left the attic!  The irksome thing is that we never actually see this scene happen, so it's ambiguous as to whether or not Cathy's telling the truth.  However, the accusation causes Corrine to have a full-on psychotic break, implying that there's at least a grain of truth to it.

Still a lot of questions there.  Did Cory die en route to the hospital, as Corrine claimed, and she hid him in the attic where she knew his body would never be found?  Or--and a lot of people seem to think this--did she never even bother with the hospital, simply abandoning her son in a locked, hidden room in the attic, essentially burying him alive?

Short version: we never find out what became of Cory's body, but there is a good 80% chance it was stowed in the attic of Foxworth Hall and ultimately consumed by fire when the house burned down.

case-of-the-keyhole-covers:  This search hit particularly pleases me, because it means that someone is deliberately and purposefully Googling for something that I wrote.  It's right here if anyone wants it.  I hope you're not in marketing; I say some pretty mean things about you guys in that post.

Bart Winslow flowers in the attic: Bart is Corrine's virile strapping moustachio'd sex-bomb attorney of a second husband (represented here by Magnum PI* himself, Burt Reynolds).  He will make his first real appearance later in the Petals recaps.  I have feelings about Bart.  They are not sexy feelings.

My feelings about Burt Reynolds are completely sexy.  I am not ashamed of that.

Recap of Part Three is 3/4ths done! I'm just having trouble finding some gifs that sufficiently express my trauma over the upcoming sex scene.

ETA, 2/5/2012: I edited the title to this entry, not due to any squeamishness about dropping the f-bomb in the title, but because, ironically, I was getting hits for weird and potentially illegal porn.

*Gehayi pointed out in comments that Tom Selleck played Magnum P.I.  Apparently I got my moustaches mixed up.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Petals on the Wind: The Covers

Once upon a time, when I was a mere slip of a lass, there used to be advertisements in the back of the original first-edition V.C. Andrews paperbacks from which you could, if you were so inclined, order poster-sized prints of the covers of the first three books in the Dollanganger series.  Suitable for framing and hanging over the fireplace.  I swear, this happened.

The artist for the original four Dollanganger (and My Sweet Audrina) covers was Gillian Hills, a woman whose face and life both resemble a V.C. Andrews heroine's: she was a stunning, globe-trotting blonde debutante whose C.V. includes starring roles in several reputable but mostly forgotten films (including a blink-of-the-eye cameo in A Clockwork Orange) and a career as a chanteuse.  Her music was typical girl-pop for the time, but her voice was surprisingly sweet and sultry, with a lot of emotional depth--even beyond the "everything sounds awesome in French" aspect.

Yes.  That is the woman who painted the original V.C. Andrews covers.  As much as I was surprised to be able to find any information about her at all, to find that she was such an impressive, multi-talented woman was incredible.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Petals on the Wind, Part Two: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

So . . . where were we?

I seem to have covered most of Part One, which is basically establishing the kids with Dr. Paul.  Other than that, nothing of dire importance happened in that section.  I mean, there was a shopping montage, and it was pretty great, and Chris tried to bone his sister, which happens roughly seven hundred times in this book, and Cathy flits around in skimpy underwear a lot, which also happens about seven hundred times.

Part One, thank goodness, is fairly short.  Part Two is where we finally get our pot a-boiling.  Once more into the breech, dear friends!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Show Must Go On

While I promised myself that this blog would be a space for pure scholarly reflection/snarking, and that I would not let my Real Life make any inroads into the snark, Real Life continues to happen to me.  But this time, in a good way!  And after such a long absence, I feel you deserve the fun anecdote version:

Upshot is that there were three major reasons the blog went on hiatus.  One was the tornado.  Not only did I lose access to my notes and computer for about a month's time, Your Humble Annotator kind of had more of a breakdown than she wanted to.  I really couldn't write anything for a while after that.  I was completely out of funny.

Two was my school work, plus the addition of a new job, which made more of a strain on my time than anticipated.  At least I was writing again, but my writing involved the influence of blackface minstrelsy on the commercialization of early jazz records and the patterns of reversals of fortune versus morality in Defoe's Moll Flanders. Again, not much funny to be had there.

The third problem: I, um, don't actually own the books.

I had in my possession three VCA books: Flowers in the Attic, Heaven, and My Sweet Audrina.  The rest of the series came in the form of an enormous, dubiously legal PDF of the Complete Works of V.C. Andrews, which had an alarming tendency to veer off into Cyrillic characters.  By the time I broke off the recapping, I was not so much reading as translating, piecing together sentences that were, at best, two-thirds English.  It was tedious and frustrating and may be the reason why the first second of the Petals recap had that feeling of being rushed.

So this is where I was last week, when I finally heeded my elderly mother's call to visit her.  She had just had a largely unsuccessful yard sale.  What she really wanted, of course, was for me to take some of this junk off her hands before she called the Salvation Army for the rest of it.  I ended up digging through ancient and disintegrating Avon boxes (remember those?), trying to hunt down my first-generation My Little Ponies so that I could show my Brony husband what his fandom evolved from.

Then I came to a dead halt.

In another Avon box, tucked way in the back of a closet so that they would not leak their scent of shame on the rest of the items, I found these:

Not featured: Avon box.

There's a few pretty major omissions in this set: I'm missing the final FitA book, Garden of Shadows, for one, which is sad because not only do I think that book may well be the final one touched by the pen of V.C. herself, I actually thought it was pretty okay.  Also missing is Dark Angel, the second book of the Casteel series, which features an extensive foray into one of finest Andrews tropes, the Boarding School from Hell.  Hidden by the unavoidable glare (it's a really foil-laiden cover) is Rain, in which we are treated to the Tragic Mulatto of the Andrews world, since they were running out of offensive stereotypes by that point.  Seriously, there are series here that I was only marginally aware existed (who the fuck are the DeBeers?)  I do, however, now own all the Landry series, which I originally was not going to even touch, but they are stuffed with such wacky twin-swapping shenanigans that I am nearly convinced they are genius on a level too high for me to comprehend.

I also somehow ended up with two Audrinas.  JUST LIKE IN THE BOOK!

Basically, I now I have no excuses.  I have to finish this thing.  You can thank my mother.  Actually you can thank her by taking some yard-sale goods off her hands.  She's got a pretty cool vintage console TV for only $25, if anyone's interested.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"I feel fantastic and I'm still alive . . . "

The blog continues, despite a significant gap due in part to Your Humble Annotator having a mild mental meltdown (as you do when your 'hood gets wiped off the map) and a therapeutic trip to New York City to visit an old friend and unwind from the stress of being sideswiped by an F5.  Two words: culture shock.

Nevertheless, the blog will continue shortly. I am shooting for Saturday/Sunday for Part Two of Petals on the Wind.  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Petals on the Wind, Part One: The Great White Flight

Welcome, dear readers, to Petals on the Wind, already known in my house as “the book where I get to break out all my Black Swan macros.”   Nah, I kid.  Not about the macros—I’ve been stockpiling those since I started putting the site together in sole anticipation of this book—but any other comparison to Black Swan will be purely coincidental.  I haven’t even seen that movie, but I am told it is a probing if flawed analogy for an eating disorder.  This book on the other hand, is an analogy for . . .  well, no, there’s no room for analogy in Andrewsland.

I have always said that the great thing about the whole Dollanganger series is that while the characters in Flowers in the Attic can be seen as somewhat sympathetic, every problem they have in their life thereafter is no one’s fault but their own.  All three of the remaining Dollangangers go about gleefully fucking up their lives and personal relationships, and it’s hard to feel a moment’s pity for any of them.  Even Carrie, who ends up being the sacrificial lamb, would have fared far better in the company of people who took two seconds to consider that maybe having your mother lock you up for three years, being poisoned, starved, and sun-deprived, watching your identical twin die, and being a first-hand witness to the blatantly obvious sexual tension between your two older siblings—well, all of that MIGHT REQUIRE SOME PROFESSIONAL COUNSELLING.  But no.  It’s Andrewsland.  Modern psychology need not apply, unless it comes in the form of Our Heroine being wrongfully committed by her dastardly stepmother.

Mostly, though, this is the book where my sympathies swung to the grandmother.  Plainly, she was a woman possessed of a prophetic soul whose only crime was trying to save the world from these horrible people.  Because by the end of this one, Cathy lays waste to everyone and everything in her whole life, and it’s all her own fault.  As my own dear grandmother (who never once locked me in an attic) used to say, that child is too dumb to cook quick-grits.

Trust me.  In the South, them's fightin' words.

But enough of that!  Let's get this party started!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Background Blogging: Back in Business

Aaaaand we're back!

As stated in the previous post, I was in one of the heavily impacted areas of the April 27th tornadoes in Alabama.  We missed a direct hit by about a block, I'm thankful to say.  However, immediately afterward, the most modest estimate for getting electrical service back to our neighborhood was a month . . . and considering everything else going on, we felt like assholes even asking about things like internet. 

If you would like to help the tornado victims (i.e., my own personal neighbors), here's some places to start:

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to the relief effort. has a list of supplies needed in this area.  You buy and Amazon will ship directly.

You can also donate to the Alabama Food Bank.

It's hard to even give an idea of exactly how bad this thing is without physically importing you to my 'hood and walking you around for a couple blocks--and I couldn't even do that, because the National Guard is on the ground here and there's places they wouldn't let us go.  Suffice it to say that I know the world is moving on--the royal wedding, Bin Ladin's assassination--but this area is not going to recover within the next news cycle.  Please continue to keep us in your thoughts in the months ahead.

Blog-news: I posted up some comments that got stuck in moderation while I was indisposed.  If you didn't see your comments before, they should be there now!  I also got a headstart on Petals in the Wind once the power came up, and the first installment should be up on Friday if the internet holds.

Glad to be back!  Let's get this party started!

::spits on hands::

Friday, April 29, 2011

Background Blogging: Serious Business Edition

Hullo, me lovelies:

Without getting into too many details, Yr. Humble Annotator has been temporarily displaced by the recent tornadoes in Alabama.  Me and mine are fine, my house is fine, and--alas!--my gianormous file of the Complete Works of V.C. Andrews is fine, but things are very chaotic at this time, so the start of the Petals in the Wind recaps is on semi-indefinite hiatus.

Rest assured, in the next few days or weeks, things will settle down.  Sooner or later, I'll feel the need of the sort of wonky, wacky, craptastic magic that only a V.C. Andrews novel can provide, and we'll get this show on the road again.

Thanks for understanding.

With love,
The Fifth Dollanganger

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More Background Blogging

I'm trying a new tactic for Petals in the Wind.  In the previous set of recaps, I tried to get three chapters into every recap.  This was fine in theory, but the result seemed kind of inconsistent to me, just because the source material I was working with was kind of inconsistent with its pacing.  With Andrews, you can have three chapters where shit goes down, or three chapters that all begin with "What with one thing and another, a year passed."  Petals on the Wind is a pretty plot-heavy book compared to Flowers, and I think there are sections where I can get away with recapping only one or two chapters and still have a nice hefty post.  Upshot is that while the recaps are likely to be shorter for Petals, there will probably be more of them.

In the works: rereading Petals, of course. Finished watching Pin: a Plastic Nightmare, the film version of Andrew Neiderman's Pin, which was surprisingly creepy and effective.  Got about halfway through the film version of Flowers in the Attic, which was . . . er, not quite up to snuff with Pin.  Skimmed Gods of Green Mountain, a book only notable for its stylistic differences from anything else Andrews published.  Attempted breakdown of characters of color in Andrewsland; was slain immediately by migraine.

Meanwhile, it's finals week, and I have reports due on both Chaucer and Cormac McCarthy (she said in order to prove that sometimes she reads things that are not V.C. Andrews), so I am aiming for next Saturday to post the first section of Petals.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flowers in the Attic, Part Seven: Escape from Cellblock Six

In one of the best chapter titles in this series, if not in history, the first chapter we encounter in our final lap of the recapping is "Color All Days Blue, But Save One For Black." Also possibly a good title for the next Panic! At the Disco album.  But they have to include the italics.

The chapter begins "We were leaving. Any day." which my mental narrator read in a deeply sarcastic voice: Yep. Any day now. Aaaaaany day. Because so far it's taken them nine months to steal $500, and I'm sure that once that goal is reached, Chris will beg them to hold off another three days to watch Betty Jo's wedding on Petticoat Junction and then Cathy's period will start and of course you can't escape while you're on the rag because what if you attract sharks? But this time they have a plan: the next time they go downstairs, they're going to take everything, money, jewelry, valuables, a clean sweep. And then they're going to run away to Sarasota, Florida and become circus performers. No really. That's the plan.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Ghostwriters Get Meta

Guys, I was snooping around the Web for a potential future post on the works of Andrew Neiderman (VC's ghostwriter), when I suddenly found this little piece of joy:

Can you see that blurb at the top of the cover?

    --V.C. ANDREWS

Except this book came out in 1992.  V.C. died in 1986.

. . . oh Neiderman, you scamp!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Case of the Keyhole Covers

I think that it is pretty significant that when I went a-Googling "keyhole covers" and "stepback covers," the very first page was full of references to V.C. Andrews covers.* Everyone who is aware of V.C. Andrews remembers the keyhole covers: a small die-cut hole on the cover that reveals part of an illustration, or stepback, beneath. Later covers have covers cut slightly smaller than the book, allowing a long peek at the edge of the stepback , but to be honest, they're just not as fun. There are also fake-out stepbacks where the cover is standard size, but has a fake stepback image printed on it. Least fun of all are the editions where the inner illustration is simply printed on the back cover.

For a long time, they were a hallmark of a V.C. Andrews novel: a cover you could stick your finger through without ruining the resale value on eBay. And now, like Pushing Daisies and those whole-wheat Chicken Caesar wraps I really liked, they are gone. How did it happen?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flowers in the Attic, Part Six: In Which Cathy Makes Passes at Men with Mustaches

A Note: Cathy spends the larger portion of this chapter running around in skimpy see-through baby-doll nighties. This is a trend that will feature heavily in the next book.

Cathy and Chris, by unspoken consent, decide not to speak of the "odd" moment on the bed, although they keep giving each other uncomfortable looks thereafter. Meanwhile, Andrews feels the need to inform us that puberty, once begun, is a river run wild: we are treated to descriptions of Cathy's willowy waist and broadening hips, and of Chris's manly chest and um, other manly things:
I caught him once in the attic staring down at that part of him he seemed so taken with--and measuring it too!

"Why?" I asked, quite astonished to learn that the length mattered. He turned away before he told me once he'd seen Daddy naked, and what he had seemed so inadequate in size. Even the back of his neck was red as he explained this. Oh, golly--just like I wondered what size bra Momma wore!

"Don't do it again," I whispered. Cory had such a small male organ, and what if he had seen and felt as Chris did, that his was inadequate?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Background Blogging

Quick note: I am relatively new to Blogger, and I'm still experimenting with posting formats and suchlike.  I tend to work on individual sections of recaps all at once.  In the current Blogger format, this means that an entry I post on Saturday will be dated for the Wednesday I began writing the post.  I am trying to correct this problem.

The upshot for you guys: if a post vanishes, rest assured it will return within 24 hours--probably sooner.  Yes, I know there's only five of you at the moment . . . but that doesn't mean I can't do you right!

New post Tuesday.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flowers in the Attic, Part Five: Starvation Heights

Hm. I could have sworn I already posted up Part Four, but Blogger thinks otherwise. Nevertheless we proceed apace, dear friends! We have reached the midpoint of the novel, and the first chapter of Part Two is called "Growing Up, Growing Wiser." I strongly challenge one of those two claims.

We resume the narrative learning that "another year passed, much like the first." Mommy Dearest's visits have become less regular, and the grandfather remains perpetually two weeks from death. Cathy and Chris have developed the habit of sunbathing nude on the roof, too high up to be seen from the ground, and despite all the warnings have a stunningly casual attitude about nudity these days. "We were not always modest in the bedroom," Cathy says, "nor were we always fully dressed. It was difficult to live, day in, day out, and always keep the intimate places of our bodies secret from the other sex." No four people living in such close quarters can reasonably be expected to match the grandmother's standards of "modesty," which involve not even looking at members of the opposite sex, but so far these kids seem thoroughly obsessed with nudity, bathroom functions, genitalia, and their mom's sex life. They could use a few inhibitions.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Flowers in the Attic, Part Four: The Part Where the Book Becomes Unbearably Creepy

Mommy Dearest returns after the twins' bedtime. She is wearing an allegedly gorgeous green velvet-and-chiffon gown that shows off all the curves, as well as a healthy helping of cleavage. Chris is gobsmacked and openly ogles her; Cathy is envious of her brother's attention and hopes that one day she will have a figure like her mother's. I mean, it's one thing for a girl think Mommy is the most beautiful woman in the world and want to grow up to look just like her, but when you want to look just like Mommy because you notice that your brother gives her his undivided attention . . . I just don't know, y'all. This book is taking me to places in my own psyche where I do not wish to linger.

Flowers in the Attic, Part Three: Merry Christmas from the Family

With the Trunchbull gone, the kids gather around their mother--gently--as she explains what's going on here. What's going on here is that lady, you have one hell of a lawsuit open to you and you could probably sue these sadistic sumbitches for millions. You need to go to the cops and get photo documentation of this. Go on. I'll wait.

Nah, that's not how we roll here in Andrewsland, where money = absolute godlike power. Instead she explains that both her mother and father are religious zealots. Even in her father's condition, he attends church every Sunday, sometimes in a hospital bed, because he is trying to buy his way into Heaven (silly Malcolm Foxworth! You can buy your way into Heaven for $500! Just ask Cal Dennison in a couple of books!). As a child, she says, they were forbidden to go to dances, to date, and were required at all times to control their thoughts and keep them "pure," which explains why she keeps strolling around in her negligee in front of her teenage son, but whatever. But then she fell madly in love with her handsome half-uncle. They eloped, and finally it dawns on the kids that this half-uncle that has been mentioned at least five times now is, in fact, their father. NOTE TO THE ACADEMY: NOT MENSA MATERIAL.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Flowers in the Attic, Part Two: In Which the Metaphorical Flowers are in the Literal Attic

So the kids wake up and are apparently surprised to find they are still in the same room. Like I said: these kids ain't particularly bright. We get a recap of the room specs, as if we might have forgotten them since the last chapter: sixteen-by-sixteen (what twelve-year-old automatically estimates the square footage of her bedroom?), two double beds, highboy, dresser, dining table and chairs, faded Oriental rug, two overstuffed armchairs. So far, this room is better-appointed than my apartment.

And at this point we need to have a serious discussion about Cathy's continued use of the phrase "golly lolly." Some of the things V.C. Andrews puts in the mouths of her characters just fucking baffle me. No one has ever used the phrase "Good golly lolly!" in real life. Even twelve-year-old girls in the 50s didn't talk like this.

The majority of Andrews's dialogue is like this. She appears to have never heard two human beings engaged in casual conversation. It's not so much that her child-characters don't talk like children--which is a really common problem in fiction in general--as that they do not talk like human beings at all.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Flowers in the Attic, Part One: Lockdown!

The problem with V.C. Andrews is that, if you simply tell someone the premise of her books, they actually sound pretty good. The premise for Flowers in the Attic, for example, might be "Four young children are hidden in a single locked room while their mother attempts to win back her inheritance from her dying father. Gradually the children realize they are in danger, and that they must escape."
You can tell the story, you can hit the high points, but nothing ever quite manages to convey the wonky craptastic magic that is the V.C. Andrews Experience.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


What better place to begin than the book that started it all? Flowers in the Attic, also known as "Deflowered in the Attic" (but only because I just called it that OH MY WIT), is the book that introduced us to the incestuous genetic cesspool that is the Dollanganger Saga.

V.C. Andrews shopped this book as a true story, and a couple of her relatives have backed up that story over the years. The legend goes that when V.C. was spending one of her several stays in a hospital, she was taken with a handsome young doctor who confided that he had belonged to a wealthy local family that locked him and his siblings in an attic for many, many years. V.C. always insisted that the family was much too wealthy and important for the story to ever be verified, but in her original pitch letter, she described the book as "the fictionalized version of a true story" and claimed it was "not truly fiction."

Yet in another story, which appears in an excerpt from an interview published in the front of later editions shortly after her death, V.C. also claimed that her inspiration came from a dream: "I dreamed I was rich and famous--and I saw flowers growing in an attic." Based on certain details about Andrews, I am inclined to believe that this was literally a dream.

Andrews appears to have been--um. How should I put this? A very sensitive woman. Of the kind that straddles the line between genuine mysticism and New Age kookiness. Like your aunt who gets those weird newspapers. You don't have to look much further than her fiction to see that. She even seems to have been a bit of a mystic, in a thoroughly conventional, late-seventies/early-eighties Linda Goodman's Sun Signs sort of way. In her famous "Faces of Fear" interview, she stated her belief that she was an "old soul" who had lived many previous lives, and who often had precognitive dreams. I think likely what we're looking at is a combination of the two stories: that Andrews did meet her handsome young doctor, that he might have told her that he had had an unhappy childhood, and that she then had her dream and may have interpreted to mean that the doctor had been locked in an attic as a child.

Would she have believed her own interpretation? To the point that she would state it boldly and upfront to a potential publisher? Possibly; she appears to have placed great weight on her abilities. Did her publishers take her explanation as fact? Probably not. But I also think that if you're going to publish a novel in the lurid late 70s, with things like Mommie Dearest and Looking for Mr. Goodbar coming out only a few years before, the old based-on-a-true-story-so-shocking-I-mustn't-give-you-any-more-details line can't hurt your sales any.

Do I believe it's a true story? No way. If only for this reason: in this day and age of reality entertainment, open discussion of child abuse, Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer*, and talk-show culture, someone would have come forward by now. So far, there's been no one, even an obvious crazy trying to pitch a Lifetime movie. Andrews and/or her publicist seems to have cooled toward this claim over the years; once Andrews became a brand-name writer, the based-on-a-true-story angle was quietly shelved.

Therefore, I think we can get over our guilt that we are potentially lapping up the lifeblood of innocent children and dive right into this horror-show, don't you?

*No, I don't believe that was a true story either.


Not a real FAQ, in that I only made my first post an hour ago and no one's asked me anything, frequently or otherwise. But a few questions I suspect will come up along the way.

What are the "canon eight"?
The canon eight are Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, Garden of Shadows, My Sweet Audrina, Heaven, and Dark Angel.

Why are you only doing eight books?
V.C. Andrews died in 1986. Only eight books can be directly attributed to Andrews herself, and even of the "canon eight," there's some debate about whether the last few novels were wholly written by Andrews, mostly written by Andrews and completed by her ghostwriter, or entirely written by the ghostwriter based on notes and/or drafts written by Andrews before her death. Garden of Shadows is an iffy book on my list, but I have a Compelling Argument that that book was almost wholly written by Andrews, which I may reveal later when I review the book or if I happen to be very bored one day.

But mostly I'm doing those ones because everything after that point really sucks.

Who is V.C. Andrews's ghostwriter?
It's a pretty open secret these days that Andrews's ghostwriter is novelist Andrew Neiderman, who wrote the wonderfully creepy psychosexual horror novel Pin, as well as the novel that became the film The Devil's Advocate, back before a full-time career of being V.C. Andrews became more lucrative. He still writes under his own name and has published about a novel a year since the 1980s.

Have you read all the novels? Like, all of them?
No. I stopped reading Andrews around the time of the Cutler Series. Which coincidentally was when they started to suck. I have read the first two books of the Landry Series, which also sucked, although I have my suspicions that they may, in fact, have a touch more Andrews than some of the other later books. I have lots of theories about V.C. Andrews.

Will we get to hear these theories?
Probably! It's just that some of my theories are speculative to the point of litigation. I probably need some kind of disclaimer, don't I?

Do you plan to read all the novels?
Not if I can possibly help it. I may spot-read some of the later books if someone can convince me it's worth it.

Would you ever review the Flowers in the Attic film?
Oh my God yes. ("EAT IT, MOTHER! EAT THE COOKIE!") But let's see if I can get through the books first, okay?

Why do you hate V.C. Andrews?
I don't hate V.C. Andrews! Honestly, it's hard to know anything about V.C. Andrews and still hate on Andrews. By all accounts she was a very unhappy woman who lived her life housebound by physical illness, but who nevertheless made a wildly successful career for herself, retains an army of fangirls thirty years after her death, and is warmly remembered by her family and friends. I don't even hate her books. I just think they're hilarious.

God, do you only read trash? Why don't you read a real book?
Oh! You're looking for my other review site, The Complete Annotated Dostoyevsky Blog-O-Rama. It didn't go anywhere. Because Dostoyevsky isn't fucking funny.

Introduction: A Mission of Shame

They say there is only so far you can distance yourself from something before you find yourself coming back around to it. Well, no. I said that. Just now.

I read the entire original works of V.C. Andrews back when I was a green lass of ten or so--back before I had any idea of what was actually happening in the books. They were thrilling, fraught, filthy (for a ten-year-old), and best of all, they were absolutely forbidden. These were adult books. And I couldn't keep my hot little hands off 'em. This was before I discovered real porn.

As I grew older and my reading tastes matured, I was mildly embarrassed to admit that not only had I read all the books, I could recall most of their plots in lurid detail. Say what you will about Andrews' writing style, but you can't deny the woman could come up with a riveting premise. A premise which she would then drag out for five increasingly and painfully protracted novels--but still!

I realized there was a whole generation of girls who had grown up in the V.C. Andrews hey-day and likewise read the books when they were too young to fully comprehend how bad they were. Most of these young readers have grown into thoughtful, literate, mature women who now recall the books with a mixture of nostalgia and disgust. And the rest of them like Twilight.*

My mission is to examine and comment upon the eight "canon" novels of V.C. Andrews oeuvre, largely so that I can get it all out of my system and move on with my life

I don't know how far I'm going to get with this, to be honest. I am a full-time student with friends, deadlines, and something marginally resembling a real life. My aim is to post a review of at least one novel per month, perhaps supplemented with some commentary on All Things Andrews.

May God be with me.

*I kid. There is nothing wrong with liking Twilight. Unless you have some self-esteem.