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.

Meanwhile, Chris has vowed never to love anyone but Cathy again, claiming that it's too late for him to learn to trust another woman as he does her. Yeah, kid, and when I was seventeen I vowed never to marry because marriage would derail my preordained career of being a savvy publishing maverick who spent her summers touring Europe. Seventeen-year-olds are idiots.

On the night of Operation Clean Sweep, Cory falls ill. He can't stop vomiting, and this time it's serious. All the kids have been sick since early spring, but Cory was always the most fragile. Future Medical Doctor Chris suspects food poisoning. In a roundabout way, he's absolutely right.

The kids stay up all night tending to Cory, until dawn when the Trunchbull arrives with the day's food. Cathy steels herself up to tell the Trunchbull that Cory is sick and they're afraid he's dying. Without a word, the Trunchbull turns and leaves, and the kids debate whether or not they should use their key to go downstairs and get help. Hint: YES. But the Trunchbull returns a few moments later with Mommy Dearest (whom she also keeps in the surveillance room next door). Mommy Dearest dithers and waffles until finally Cathy has her own Crowning Moment of Awesome and tells her mother that there's no decision to make: Cory has to go to a hospital. Mommy Dearest snarls, "You! Always it's you!" and slaps Cathy. Cathy doesn't miss a beat and slaps her back.

"Damn you to hell, Corrine Foxworth," I shouted at the top of my lungs, "if you don't take your son to a hospital! You think you can do anything you want with us, and no one will find out! Well, you can throw away that security blanket, for I'll find a way for revenge, if it takes me the rest of my life, I'll see that you pay, and dearly pay, if you don't do something right now to save Cory's life...And what's more, I'll go to the grandfather and tell him, too! And you won't inherit one damned red, penny--and I'll be glad, glad, glad!"
Crowning Moment of Awesome indeed. Would have been a bit more awesome if it had come about a year-and-a-half sooner, but at this point I'll take what I can get from this novel.

While Mommy Dearest continues to waffle, the Trunchbull, in something approaching her own Crowning Moment, sides with Cathy and insists that Cory must go to a hospital. But then they leave the dying child to suffer for the rest of the day, coming back only at night to smuggle him out of the house under the cover of darkness.

It is the next evening when Mommy Dearest returns to announce that Cory had pneumonia and died in the hospital. She had him buried immediately under a false name.

No, seriously.  This is what happens when you kill off a character with whom the audience has never interacted and has no reason to sympathize. V.C. Andrews was relying on the very fact that he was a child to produce the necessary emotional response needed to make this scene tragic. Instead, the loss is hardly felt and comes off hollow, if not downright emotionally manipulative.
After Cory's death, Carrie stops verbalizing--a natural response in a child her age but but frankly, given the sort of obnoxious burblings to which Carrie is prone, I'm not feeling a whole lot of concern. She, too, is dying, and the kids realize they need to get out of here fast, which at the current rate of progress means we've got another hundred-fifty pages.

Finally, Cathy announces that November 10th is to be their final day in the attic. I would like to remind you all that they've been plotting this escape since roughly August of last year. The one plot point that could have pushed the action forward, and it's slowing it to a snail's pace.

This time for really-really-real, Chris is going down to do some hardcore stealing. He's gone all night, with Cathy tending the sickly Carrie as she waits for him.

Chris returns with an empty sack. Show of hands: who's surprised? No one? Thought not! Because Mommy Dearest has skipped town with her new husband. Her suite is completely empty. The only things she left behind was a photograph of their father and her old wedding rings, which were obviously left as a fuck-you to the kids.

We get another one of those long-ass Chris monologues: when he found his mother's room empty, he decided to go rob the Trunchbull instead, only to find her still awake, kneeling at the foot of her bed in prayer, asking God aloud for forgiveness and claiming she always did the best she could. It's actually kind of touching, as far as the Trunchbull goes, and in context with Cory's death, it's not hard to imagine that she feels at least more contrite than Mommy Dearest. Also in this scene we find out that the Trunchbull wears a wig.

Chris moves on, and a thought occurs to him: he will go find the grandfather instead! In the grandfather's room at the back of the library, he's shocked to find an empty hospital bed that has long since been stripped.

On his way back, he's nearly caught out by a butler and maid who have slipped into the library for a tryst. Chris hides under a sofa, which turns out to be the very sofa the butler and maid decide to have sex on.  So deep have we descended into hell that now characters are literally having sex on top of other characters. Chris of course describes this to his sister in grotesque detail: "And by golly, it took them so everlastingly long! Oh, the noises they made, Cathy--you wouldn't believe it. She moaned and screamed and gasped and panted, and he grunted like a stuck pig, but I guess he must have been pretty good at it, for she shrieked at the end like someone gone crazy."

While Chris is trapped there, the convenient couple engage in some expositional pillow-talk, openly making jokes about "the mice in the attic" and how noisy they are, and how the "old bitch" brings up a picnic basket of poisoned food every morning to kill them off. And Cathy doesn't get it. The couple also mention explicitly that grandfather died a year ago, and Cathy still doesn't get it. She actually thinks that this is great news, because hurray! If the grandfather's dead, that means they can come downstairs now, right? . . . right?

Realizing that he might as well wait for the Titanic to pull into port as wait for Cathy to get a clue, Chris finally restates the obvious using slow, short words. The grandfather has been dead for a year, and no one came to fetch them. Not only this, the Trunchbull explained away her picnic basket by telling the servants that she was leaving arsenic-covered food for the mice in the attic. And hand to God, I am not making this up: Cathy still doesn't get it. Chris has to actually explain that arsenic is white (like powdered sugar!) and that if ingested in minute fractions, it mimics various other illnesses (like pneumonia).
"Cory!" I gasped. "Cory died of arsenic poisoning? Momma said it was pneumonia that killed him!"

So Future Medical Doctor Chris conducts an experiment to prove his theory: they give a doughnut to Cory's tame mouse, then sit around for the rest of the afternoon, watching it die.

Finally, finally, finally, it's time to go. Cathy goes up to the attic schoolroom and writes a cryptic message on the blackboard:
We lived in the attic
Christopher, Carrie, Cory, and me--
Now there are only three.
Also they take the dead mouse and the doughnuts with them on account of I don't even know at this point. There's some small mention of bringing this evidence to the police, but Future Medical Doctor Chris doesn't seem to realize that the more convincing evidence would be three children who by now are so riddled by heavy-metal toxicity that they couldn't get through airport security butt-naked.

And so, one year, three months, and one fatality after resolving to escape, they leave the attic forever. As they walk to the train station, Cathy looks back to the window of their room, just in time to see the draperies snap shut. The grandmother has seen them go.

Before they board their train, Chris drops his final bomb.  While he was hiding under the couch listening to the maid and butler engaged in post-coital gossip, he learned that before the grandfather died, he made a codicil to his will stating that if Mommy Dearest ever had children, or was ever proven to have had children, she would be forced to give up her inheritance, along with everything she had ever bought with it.  I'm pretty sure this codicil would hold as much water as a pair of pantyhose in a court of law (not to mention that Mommy Dearest is married to a lawyer), but evidence strongly points to the fact that it was Mommy Dearest, not the Trunchbull, doing the poisoning.

After a moment of internal conflict, they throw away the paper bag containing the dead mouse that is their "evidence" on the grounds that using this for "revenge" would make them no better than their mother, rather than, oh, I don't know, considering their moral obligations to their dead baby brother and their dying baby sister and to society at large as there is now a serial poisoner on the loose.

Instead, they console themselves that their mother will no doubt live a long, wretched, lonely life, deprived of the one thing all women desire above beauty, wealth, social standing, and a doting handsome sexually-attentive younger husband: her children.  No grandbabies for you, Mommy Dearest!  Only your cold hard uncountable millions to comfort you in the long watches of the night.  I weep for her.  Really.

But at last, they are free, and even Carrie, who's still in deep grief, manages a smile at the prospect of a new life as a migrant orange picker in sunny Florida.

The book closes with a few last words from Cathy:
After we escaped Foxworth Hall, we made our way, and managed, somehow, to always keep striving toward our goals.

Our lives were always to be tempestuous, but it taught both Chris and me that we were survivors. For Carrie, it was far different. She had to be persuaded to want a life without Cory, even when she was surrounded by roses.

But how we managed to survive--that's another story.

Is . . . is that what I think it is?




Coming up: Some final thoughts on Flowers!  The beginning of Petals on the Wind! The magical snowy whiteness of Andrewsland! Why rape is totally okay as long as your rapist really loves you!  And a salute to Andrew Neiderman!

Stay tuned.


  1. Perfect Strangers gif!!! I loved that show when I was a kid. ~dating myself~

    Enjoy your rest! Can't wait for the Petals!

  2. omg just got done reading your review of FITA! How awesome are you to summarize it for me so that my brain doesn't completely explode!

  3. I finished this book last night, and I felt verrrrrrrrry much the way you giffed it. (Is that a verb now? It is in my attic.)

    If not for your blog, I would have given up on this book so, so much earlier -- probably at "craft time in the concentration camp."

  4. I have to say this is the best synopsis of this book I have ever read....

  5. I read these books a long, long time ago (early 90's seemed like only yesterday, didn't they? Sigh). Enjoying your synopses! Keep em coming!