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.

She slips the kids out of the room to a strange cabinet with a mesh back that I am going to assume is up on a mezzanine or something, because they can see the party "far below." There are crystal chandeliers, champagne fountains, a twenty-foot Christmas tree, an orchestra, and then the what may be the worst descriptive sentence ever:
The frames of the many chairs and sofas lining the walls were gold-colored, and the padded seats and backs were of red velvet, or white brocade. French chairs, of course--they just had to be Louis XIV or XV. Fancy, good-golly day!
COME FRIENDS LET US DISCUSS THE MANY THINGS WRONG WITH THIS SHORT PARAGRAPH. For starters, there's that weird passive voice: "The chair backs were of red velvet." There is nothing, nothing wrong with deleting that meek, passive little "were" and just shovin' those damn expensive chairs front and center: "Gold-framed chairs lined the walls." Second, Cathy has apparently been using her allotted daily study time to make an extensive study of 18th century French furniture, since she recognize them right off the bat. Thirdly, I am sure that Mme. Pompadour is rolling in her fucking tomb at the thought of the phrase 'good golly day!' being connected with her fauteuils.

When they're not dating the furniture, the kids speculate on their mother's relationship with the tall, dark-haired gentlemen with whom she dances most of the evening.
From time to time, Momma disappeared with that man. Where did they go, and what did they do? Did they kiss? Was she falling in love? Even from my high and remote place in the cabinet, I could tell that man was fascinated by Momma. He couldn't take his eyes from her face, or keep his hands from touching her. And when they danced to music that was slow, he held her so his cheek pressed to hers. When they stopped dancing, he kept his arm around her shoulders, or her waist--and once he dared to even touch her breast!

Then, surprisingly, the grandmother and grandfather turn up. The grandfather is an old but still able-looking man in a wheelchair, but the grandmother is wearing a ruby-red dress "tight in the front and flowing in back" and diamond earrings, with her hair piled high on her head.

Conveniently enough, a bickering couple soon pause by the kids' cabinet and fill in the back story: the man who grabbed Mommy Dearest's boob is Bartholomew Winslow. Also, apparently everyone in the goddamn county knows that Corrine ran away with her half-uncle.

By this time, both of the kids really need to pee--this story has so many issues about biological functions!--and they escape back to their room, where Chris hogs the bathroom because Chris is a douchenozzle. Once that's done, the two of them sit and discuss whether or not their mother is going to marry this Bart Winslow dude. Cathy produces this amazing line:

Deep down I thought life was sure to always put me between Scylla and Charybdis, and give to me always Hobson's Choice.


Chris brings up the fact that this is the perfect moment to explore the rest of the house, with the door unlocked and the grandmother occupied. Disguised with clothes from the attic, he prepares to go downstairs while Cathy stays with the twins. Chris is so overwhelmed by Cathy in her new princess-styled nightgown that he kisses her for luck before he heads out.

Next thing Cathy knows, she's being shaken awake by her mother, who naturally came to check and see if the kids went back upstairs or if they made a break for the nearest child-abuse hotline. Mommy Dearest is furious. When Chris appears, she smacks the shit out of him for coming so close to ruining her plans when "everything is going her way" and threatens to whip him and Cathy if they ever pull a stunt like this again. Then she seems to remember that Chris is her darling, and this happens:

She drew him into her open arms and covered his wan, splotched, moustached face with quick little kisses that sought to take away the harm she'd done. Kiss, kiss, kiss, finger his hair, stroke his cheek, draw his head against her soft, swelling breasts, and let him drown in the sensuality of being cuddled close to that creamy flesh that must excite even a youth of his tender years.

Dude. That is your mother. Your mother. You're not even supposed to consider her breasts once you start on solid food.

Chris, of course, is very forgiving in the face of cleavage and begs to know what is going her way. Mommy Dearest refuses to tell them, and slips off to her boob-grabbing beau.

Cathy is eager to know what Chris saw in his explorations, and demands that he tell her every detail, so that she can feel she was right there beside him. This of course means that Chris delivers a monologue that is even less like natural human speech than most of his actual dialogue and I don't even know how this is possible, but there you go.

"Of course it was Momma I searched for," he continued after I urged him on, "and the only people I recognized down there were our grandparents. Our grandfather was beginning to look tired, and even as I watched, a nurse came and pushed him out of sight. And I watched, for it gave me the general direction to his room in back of the library."

That speech pattern only works if you're from the same period as those chairs, kiddo. Anyway, the story: Chris crept down the hall back to the mezzanine, where he actually paused to note the foreshortening of the people below in case he ever decides to paint a picture with the perspective above eye-level (NO SERIOUSLY HE JUST THROWS THAT IN THERE)*, until he spotted his mother and Bart Winslow. Bart was teasing Mommy Dearest about wanting to see her famous bed. Which sounds like it's either a bad come-on line or Bart's way of calling her a whore, but no: she really does have a famous bed, which we shall see shortly. And then they made out in the hallway.

But Chris is holding out on Cathy, who demands juicy details:

"A FEW kisses?" I stormed. "You saw him kiss Momma more than once? What kind of kisses? Hand kisses--or real mouth-to-mouth kisses? They were passionate kisses, weren't they? He kissed her, and she let him, and maybe he even touched her breasts, and stroked her buttocks, like I once saw Daddy do when he didn't know I was in the room and watching! Is that what you saw, Christopher?"

I am going to forget I ever read that and move on: Chris watched his mother make out with--GUYS NO, I CAN'T. I JUST CAN'T. Anyway, Mommy Dearest and her beau departed, with Chris taking careful note of their direction so he could follow them later--NO NO I JUST CAN'T.

By the time he reached his mother's room, thank God, the lovebirds had departed, thus depriving Chris of that particular kinky thrill. I'll let Chris describe it:

"...finally I found Momma's suite of rooms. It has double doors over two steps up, and, boy, when I took a look inside I thought I was looking into a palace!...In the center of the room, on a dais, was the fabulous swan bed! Oh! What a bed! You've never seen anything like it! It has a sleek ivory head, turned in profile, and appears ready to plunge its head under the ruffled underside of a lifted wing. It has one sleepy red eye. The wings curve gently to cup the head of an almost oval bed--I don't know how they fit sheets on it, unless they are custom-made. The designers arranged for the wingtip feathers to act as fingers, and they hold back the delicate, transparent draperies that are in all shades of pink and rose, and violet, and purple. It is really some bed ... and those bed curtains ... why, she must feel like a princess sleeping there...There's an ivory chaise lounge upholstered in rose-colored velvet something like you'd see in a Roman orgy. And at the foot of that big swan bed--and hold your breath, for you're not going to believe this--there was an infant swan bed! Imagine that!...Cathy, you've just got to see that bed to believe it!"
Young man, I can barely believe your dialogue. The book keeps doing it, and I'll keep saying it: nobody talks this way. What fifteen-year-old boy sees a bed shaped like a swan** and pauses to wonder how they fit sheets on it?

Story-time over, Cathy asks if this house is prettier than their old home. Chris quite accurately replies that no; the house is grand, elegant, but he wouldn't call it pretty. Cathy kisses him good night--sisterly peck on the cheek, since by now I feel I must clarify these things--and goes to bed. When she glances back at Chris, though, she sees that he is crying.

The kids spend most of the winter watching their new television, since it's too cold to play in the attic. The twins, especially, are entranced by the TV, since you've got to consider that these are the only other people they've ever seen. As kids have done since the dawn of television, the siblings learn what really matters in life: relationships and consumerism.

Meanwhile, what we've all been waiting for finally happens: the older kids start going through puberty. Let's crank the sexual tension up to eleven, shall we?

Cathy complains about armpit and pubic hair and goes after it with tweezers in an effort to keep her body "nice and neat." She is horrified that Chris keeps glancing at her newly budded breasts--and here I'm firmly on the side of my girl Cathy because I'm pretty horrified by this too. Worse, she keeps finding stains on Chris's side of the bed when she changes the bedsheets, and she doesn't believe him when he tells her it's because of wet dreams. I swear, it's like they went through every single stage of puberty in a day, y'all.

This is actually a really boring chapter, y'all. Nothing of significance happens, except for two small factoids that won't come into play for another four books: Mommy Dearest tells the story about how she got her own first period (while out riding her bike) and also how her two older brothers died. The elder brother, Mal, lost control of his motorcycle on a twisty mountain road in the rain. The day of Mal's funeral, the younger brother, Joel, ran away from home and moved to Europe, where he joined a small touring orchestra and was eventually killed in a ski accident, falling into a deep ravine from which his body was never recovered. I only note this because these anecdotes will become critical later as we attempt to discover where Andrews's authorship ends and Neiderman's begins.

At the end of the chapter, Cathy crosses off another day on their calendar, and notes that August has come again and that they have now been upstairs for a full year.

Coming up: Shit gets surreal; the kids escape, but then come right back; and the beatings will continue until morality improves.

*Actually V.C. was a fairly successful commercial artist, so she did know quite a bit about art and perspective. But in this context it just came off kinda pretentious.

**Historical aside: after doing a bit of research, I suspect that the fabulous swan bed is actually based on a bed owned by actress Mae West, picture below. Which is fine by me. If Mae West wants a swan bed, she can by-god have one.


  1. If there's anyone to whom I would instinctively apply the word "pimptastic," it would be Mae West.

  2. You know, I first read this book about 25 years ago (OMG am I really that old?) and I could NEVER picture the swan bed. I was so hoping you had a visual. Thanks for the Mae West pic. :)

  3. I didn't know there was another swan bed! I thought the inspiration for the bed was the swan bed was the one in Maymont Mansion in Richmond Virginia where Andrews was from. Mae West's bed is more pimped out but the mansion's is even bigger. I wish there was a picture of the exact one she described!

  4. Mae West's swan bed is a gilded replica of the Neumann design at Maymont, actually. Fun fact for the day! :)

  5. That swan bed detail was really great, thanks for posting.

  6. I am just so happy I found this blog!

  7. Hilarious! I was searching Google for the swan bed and found this... Had me laughing out loud. Good points! Just what I was thinking (this book is SO DAMN CREEPY)

  8. These posts are absolutely hilarious. The corners of my eyes are moist from laughing so hard. I will confess, I *adored* this book when I read it when I was in like 7th or 8th grade. I *never* noticed how stilted the language is, though I do recall being baffled at why they didn't just leave once they had a way out. This is a wonderful look back at this through adult eyes. Somehow, despite reading probably 7-8 VC Andrews books around that age, I have survived and grown into a reasonably mentally stable adult!