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.