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.

First off: my edition of this story has the most goddawful cover. It's not one of those great keyhole covers with the stepback picture inside (which will be the topic of a future entry), but some kind of later edition where this book was being marketed as a romance. Cathy and Chris are forehead-to-forehead with their lips slightly parted and Foxworth Hall is behind them and it's all misty and rose-colored and lens-flares, lens-flares, lens-flares.

Great lavender shirt you're sporting there, Chris!

Our Story Begins with a prologue from Cathy, not-so-subtly driving home the idea that this is a true story (see, last post wasn't totally gratuitous!). "It is so appropriate to color hope yellow," say Cathy, "like that sun we seldom saw." BAM! Color symbolism starts right off on the first line. I hope you're ready for a lot more of it when we get to My Sweet Audrina! I know I'm not.

Cathy mentions that she would have like to have titled her "memoir" Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Oh my God. That's worse than The Great Gatsby originally being titled The High-Bouncing Lover. Whatever, you know, you just know, that Andrews seriously considered that title for maybe ten seconds. But anyway, this prologue's job is to strongly hint that this is a fictionalized account of a true story. So my last post wasn't entirely gratuitous after all.

The first chapter is titled "Goodbye, Daddy." Literally, the first words you see in this narrative are GOODBYE, DADDY. This tells you all you need to know about the level of exposition we will be dealing with in pages to come.

The first half of the chapter is pure exposition, so we'll skim through that: blond-haired, blue-eyed Cathy Dollanganger lives in the 1950s with her blond-haired, blue-eyed big brother Christopher and their blond-haired, blue-eyed parents, Christopher Sr. and Corrine, who resemble one another enough to be mistaken for brother and sister, as if that is a good thing. The neighborhood nickname for this genetic nightmare of a family is "the Dresden Dolls," although that is not where my thoughts first ran.

In the first few pages, two more glorious Lebensborn babies are brought into this suburban idyll: twins Carrie (a girl) and Cory (a boy). Cathy is at first resentful of the hideous red-faced squalling runts muscling in on her daddy-time, but, in a pre-Purity Ball vow, her father gives her a ring to forever cement that he will always love her just a tiiiiiiiny bit more than any of his other children. We have to establish this special bond quickly as this chapter is called "Goodbye, Daddy" and the man only has a few more pages to live.

Sure enough, Daddy is quickly dispatched in a car accident (on his birthday, no less). Mommy Dearest struts around the house in her black mourning negligee, where the two elder children comment on her delicious gams. No, really. Finally, Corrine admits the truth: over the past few years, the family has been living well beyond its means, and their house and personal belongings are about to be repossessed. Her elderly father, however, is a multi-billionaire who booted her out of his will ages ago for marrying without his approval. But now Daddy Warbucks has only months to live, and Mommy Dearest feels this is the best possible psychological moment for a lucrative reconciliation.

Mom and the kids head off in the dead of night to Foxworth Hall, Mom's childhood home. Mysteriously, however, there is no one to greet them at the train station. Instead, the four kids end up marching through the woods (with the twins whining all the way) and slipping into the house through the back door, where they are greeted by their grandmother.

The Trunchbull leads them to a largish upstairs room where everything is described as "heavy": heavy door, heavy furniture, heavy drapes, and hellfire-and-brimstone reproductions on the walls. Specifically, this picture:

Which is actually the pagan god Saturn, but hey, who's keeping track, huh?

Right off the bat, the Trunchbull backhand-compliments the kids: "Just as you said, Corrine. Your children are beautiful. But are you sure they are intelligent? Do they have some invisible afflictions not apparent to the eyes?" Well, the older boy's a junior misogynist and the younger girl whines like a sommelier but I'm not sure that's what you had in mind, Missus Trunchbull.

The twins are practically asleep on their feet, so Mommy Dearest and Cathy swap them to their jim-jams and put them to bed. The Trunchbull immediately snaps that she can't allow Cathy and Chris to sleep together. Corrine protests that Cathy and Chris are innocent children, to which the Trunchbull replies, "Innocent? That is exactly what your father and I always presumed about you and your half-uncle!" Cathy doesn't get it; Chris gets it, but he doesn't want it.

Corrine then insists that if the Trunchbull is so concerned with brother-sister shenanigans, why not just give the kids separate beds--or separate rooms? The Trunchbull replies that this is the only room where the children will not be heard, and proceeds to lay down some ground rules: "Very early in the mornings, I will bring the children food and milk before the cook and the maids enter the kitchen. This north wing is never entered except on the last Friday of each month, when it is thoroughly cleaned. On those days, the children will hide in the attic until the maids finish. And before the maids enter, I myself will check everything over to see they leave behind no evidence of their occupancy." It does not occur to Cathy that the Trunchbull is implying they're going to be until the end of the month, nor is there any previous note made that this is only Wednesday or Thursday.

Finally, the Trunchbull exits, and Mommy Dearest explains that she doesn't know how long it will take to win her father over, but that the kids will be in this room for a week at the outside. Cathy and Chris promise to be little angels, and at last they fall into bed with their same-sex siblings and get some shut-eye.

And so will I. Next time: the rules, the attic, and the first of many, many beatings.


  1. Oh boy, that book is horrifying! I feel sorry for the unsuspecting person who picks this up thinking" ohh, look! A love story!" and later on having to pour bleach in their eyes when they realize that it's about a brother and sister.

  2. No. No. No. TELL me they didn't market this book with THAT cover. So wrong.

  3. I personally loved the book, the whole series was fantastic, it's supposed to be on the darker side of the story scale and it is. The cover though, that's not right...