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?

I . . . I think we need another come-to-Jesus moment about all the things that are wrong with this little vignette. Bullet points!
  • There's that goshdarn "golly" again.
  • The penis euphemisms are just too precious.  "That part of himself he seemed so taken with."  "What he had."  "Male organ."  A lot of critics have commented on Andrews's strangely sexless attitude toward sex, but this is the textbook example.  Granted, we'd all be shocked if Andrews whipped out  the c-word, but even a nice, consistent "manhood" might be preferable to this.
  • These kids not only check out their mom's gams, they spy on their parents naked.
  • Not only do they spy on their parents naked, they consider this such a normal part of living that they assume their younger siblings do the same to them.
  • The Trunchbull's rules are starting to look completely reasonable in light of these two things.
  • What is wrong with this family?

However, thinking of the size of her brother's schlong makes Cathy take a good hard look at the twins. I'll pause a moment there to let you savor how fucked up that is.

There. Anyway, Cathy realizes for the first time that it's been over two years now and the twins are still the same size they were when they first came and are suffering from what I can only assume is meant to be rickets: they have tiny sickly bodies, scrawny necks, and great big honkin' lollipop heads.  Nice diagnostic work there, Future Medical Doctor.

In the wake of this grim discovery (that has been sitting under their noses for two years now), the kids have a sober lunch when all of a sudden, Mommy Dearest strolls in, dressed to the nines, doling out gifts. The kids don't even get up to greet her, and finally it dawns in her tiny brain that there may be dissension in the lower ranks.

Surprisingly, it's Chris that confronts her, throwing back in her face that, after two years' imprisonment, presents and games just ain't cuttin' it anymore. He demands that they all be let out immediately, today, and they'll simply vanish from her life--she won't even have to split the inheritance with them. Frankly, it's probably Chris's Crowning Moment of Awesome, and considering he's unflagging in his support of their mother until now, it's long in coming.

Where Chris leaves off, Cathy takes over: "Look at us, Momma! Observe our radiant, healthy complexions, just like yours. Look especially long on your two youngest. They don't look frail, do they? Their full cheeks don't look gaunt, do they? Their hair isn't dull, is it? Their eyes--they're not dark and hollowed out, are they? When you look, and register, do you see how much they've grown, how healthily they thrive?" Cathy-darling, you really, really need to work on your sarcasm.

Also I would like to note that at no point in this scene do either of the kids mention that they were beaten and starved in their mother's absence.

Mommy Dearest responds by turning on the water works: I work, I slave, I give you everything you want, I give you everything you want, I do everything for you, and this is the thanks I get.  And it works. Cathy and Chris are instantly contrite and apologize for hurting her feelings. I don't see anyone apologizing to the twins for forcing them to live for two weeks on a cracker a day, but I feel optimistic that this moment will come aaaaaaaany minute now. Mommy Dearest leaves, telling them, "When you have thought about the pain you have given me today, and when you can treat me with love and respect again, then I will come back. Not before."

Mommy Dearest stays gone for ten days, by which time the kids are genuinely contrite and fearful of making her angry with them, because, if nothing else, she's not the Trunchbull. Afraid to open their mouths to complain, they mostly smile and nod and thank her for the presents.

Then comes the closest Andrews gets to a gag in the whole book:
"Darlings, rejoice for me! I am so happy!" She laughed and spun around in a circle, hugging her arms over her chest, loving her own body, or so it seemed to me. "Guess what happened--go on, guess!"

Chris and I glanced at each other. "Our grandfather has died," he said cautiously, while my heart was doing pirouettes, preparing to really leap and bound if she gave us the glad tidings.

"No!" she said sharply, as if her happiness had dimmed some.

"He's been taken to the hospital," said I, guessing second best.
This is what passes for funny around here: black humor totally defeated by the author's own narrative style.

The good news? She's married Bart Winslow--he of the Roman hands and Russian fingers--and her two month vanishing act was because they went to Europe on honeymoon. Cathy is a little more upset that her mother's remarried than she is about the fact that BITCH WENT TO EUROPE FOR TWO MONTHS, LEAVING THEM ALONE WITH PSYCHO-GRANDMA, AND DIDN'T EVEN GIVE THEM A HEADS-UP. Cathy does managed to ask if Mommy Dearest has told her brand-new husband that she has four kids in the upstairs bedroom, but of course, she hasn't gotten around to that either.

Oh God, incoming symbolism. After Mommy Dearest finishes her duty-visit, Cathy and Chris sit down to read a presumably wonderful Victorian novel they found in the attic, all about two lovers named Lily and Raymond who are on a quest to find a magic country of purple grass. At the end of the story, it turns out that they were always in the land of purple grass, only they couldn't take their eyes off one another long enough to look down. Cathy is frustrated and slams the book down; Chris makes fun at her for taking it so seriously.

This could have been a completely unnecessary scene, except a) that it keeps getting referenced through the entire series, and b) Chris uses it as a segue to be a total misogynist tool, claiming that only a woman could have written such trashy romantic tripe. HEY CHRIS THAT'S NO WAY TO TALK ABOUT YOUR OWN AUTHOR. Cathy retorts that men, too, are capable of writing romantic trash, to which Chris retorts:

"Don't ask me what men are like! Up here, living as we do, how am I ever going to know how it feels to be a man? Up here, I'm not allowed to have any romantic notions. It's don't do this, and don't do that, and keep your eyes averted, and don't see what's before your very eyes gliding about, showing off, pretending I'm just a brother, without feelings, without any emotions but childish ones. It seems some stupid girls think a gonna-be doctor is without sexuality!"

Um. You are just a brother, Chris. I shouldn't have to be the one that reminds you of this. Seriously, a lot of blaming goes on that the only reason these two feel this way toward one another is because they were forced together in such extraordinary circumstances but honestly? It's really starting to feel like this would have happened even if their father never died and they lived happily in the suburbs ever after. 

Cathy has another one of those bizarre nightmares. In this one, the grandmother steals in to shave Cathy's head in the night, then slices off her breasts and feeds them to Chris. Then Mommy Dearest appears, covered in diamonds, and cuts out Cathy's heart. Um. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Freudian and I'm not going to touch this one, y'all.

Upon waking, Cathy spills her dream to Chris, presumably without the breast-eating part, convinced that is a psychic vision. Future Medical Doctor Chris believes her and assures her that from this moment onward, they will actively work toward escape. For those of you just joining us, these kids have been starved, whipped, emotionally and verbally abused, abandoned, and locked in a single room long enough for their younger siblings to be irreversibly handicapped by rickets, and it takes a dream to convince them that it might be time to get the fuck out of Dodge.

Glory Hallelujah, these are not just empty words. The kids notice that their mother has a habit of stashing the key to the door on top of the dresser when she visits. While Cathy distracts their mother, Chris steals the key and presses it into a bar of soap to make an imprint.  From this impression, Chris carves a wooden key . I have no way of knowing if this trick would work in real life.  Frankly, at this point I am not going to question anything that will finally get this story moving toward a resolution.

The next step is to gather enough money for an escape. Chris begins sneaking down whenever they find out their mother is out for the evening and stealing the money she carelessly leaves strewn about her suite. You know. As you do. And again, this is where logic breaks down: Cathy has just finished stating that their mother visits them two or three times per month. They can only risk going down to steal whenever she happens to tell them, on these two-or-three-visits-per-month, that she's going out for the evening. And Chris insists that he can only steal small amounts at a time, so that his thefts will not be noticed, but that they need at least five hundred dollars to get away safely. Because five hundred dollars is a lot of money back now.

Er. Cathy? This is a stall tactic.

One night, Chris invites Cathy to go downstairs with him so that she can finally see their mother's suite and the amazing swan bed. While Chris is busy doin' his thievin' thing, Cathy wanders about the room, trying on her mother's stockings, dresses, furs, and jewelry, and slathering herself in make-up and perfume. Chris tells her she looks like a teenage street-walker, which is rich, coming from Chris, and ashamed, she takes off all her finery. (In a genuinely cute moment, she steals one of her mother's bras and stuffs it down her shirt. Silly Cathy! That's not how bras work!)

Since Chris doesn't need her help, she starts rummaging through her mother's drawers and comes up with a sex manual--full-color photographs and no holds barred, apparently. Stunned, she flips through the pages. When Chris slips up behind her to tell her it's time to go, he catches a glimpse and likewise is transfixed by porn. Even when they return to their room, they're barely able to speak to one another, and Cathy lies in bed dwelling on the images.

And yeah, this is basically V.C. Andrews's way of blaming pornography for what is to happen next. She very strongly implies that if the book had not put such explicit ideas into their heads, this might not have happened.

Spring rolls around again. They've just learned that their mother and her husband are going out for yet another party tonight, but Chris is sick and can't get out of bed. Cathy doesn't want to go without him, but Chris yells at her not to be a weak-willed woman like their mother, but to stand on her own two feet and never rely on a man. Which is just hilarious, considering the next book.

Cathy ventures forth (in a transparent nightie), resolved to steal some of her mother's jewelry, only to sneak into her mother's room and find her stepfather catnapping in a chair. Instead of displaying an iota of self-preservation by getting the fuck out of there (or significantly more than an iota of self-preservation by waking him the fuck up and telling him what the fuck is happening), she creeps over to him, entranced by his beautiful mustache. No, really. Apparently a compelling force in a young girl's life is wondering what it's like to kiss a man with a mustache.

The temptation too great to resist, Cathy lays one on him, then dashes back upstairs. Instead of telling Chris the truth (or even a half-truth by saying that the room was occupied), she lies and says there was nothing to steal.

Then summer rolls around again, and I'm sorry, Cathy: STALL TACTIC. Cathy is desperate to escape before winter arrives (SPOILER: they don't), because the twins are literally no-bones-about-it dying and will never survive cold weather unless they go to the police and tell their story but oh, me and my silly earth-logic. This is Andrewsland!

And then it's fucking September, and I'm sorry, I give up at this point. Stay in your attic and bone your brother until you die, Cathy. He has no intentions of leaving this place. Why should he? He has everything he needs.

Chris goes down for his biannual robbery expedition, when what he really wants is another peek at that filthy book. Suddenly he hears his mother and stepfather coming up the hall. He dashes into the closet and conceals himself behind the fur coats. Entering the room, Bart complains that he's forgotten his wallet because it never seems to be in the same place he left it. Oops. Mommy Dearest shoots back that the last time he went back for his wallet, he dozed off in the room and left her at a party alone, and Bart replies that he'd lose his wallet more often if he knew that every time he did, he would dream about beautiful golden-haired teenage girls in blue nylon nighties tiptoeing into his bedroom to test the waters on their maidenly mustache fetishes. OOPS.

Chris puts two and two together to equal "WHORE." He runs back upstairs to Cathy, who he has suddenly decided is his by divine right or something. "You're mine, Cathy! Mine! You'll always be mine! No matter who comes into your future, you'll always belong to me! I'll make you mine ... tonight ... now!" Whereupon he flings her down on the old, stained mattress and rapes her. That is not the disgusting part.

Immediately, Cathy basically starts at the top of the victim-blaming list and systematically applies each and every item to herself.  If she hadn't really wanted it, she would have kicked him in the balls.  She shouldn't have worn all those skimpy little nighties around her big strong manly brother and his growing maleness.  She shouldn't have felt any sexual urgings at all, because obviously girls who think sexy thoughts get what they deserve.  This is not the disgusting part either.

This is the disgusting part.
I knew [Chris] well, right down to his bone marrow. I knew his thoughts, his feelings, and all the ways to wound his ego fatally. I knew that through me he had struck back at the one woman who had betrayed him in trust, faith and love. All I had to do was look in my hand mirror with the big C. L. F. on the back, and I could see my own mother's face as she must have looked at my age.

Guys, I know I say this a lot, but I can't. I really can't right now. There is so much unpacking to be done with this little scenario that I simply can't even deal with it all right now. It requires its own separate entry and we've still got two more chapters and an epilogue before we see some light at the end of this Tunnel of Crazy.

Coming up: Escape!  No, really.  They escape.  No.  Seriously.  They escape.  Wait, they're not escaping . . . oh, there they go, they're on their way--DAMMIT KIDS WILL YOU JUST LEAVE?


  1. Yay! Part six!

    I cannot wait til you get through these and get to My Sweet Audrina...

  2. I'll admit, I was checking my reading list and the first thing I saw was the Bert and Ernie GIF. I was in class and I snerked. XD

  3. Thank you so much for reviewing these :D

    I used to see them all the time at Save-Mart when I was in 1st grade--always wondered what they were about.

    After reading your reviews, I'm sooo glad that I kept to my Christopher Pike and RL Stine books lol. All that incest and rape would have scarred me for life D:

  4. PrettyXDanger: Part of the reason this blog exists is because I -was- scarred for life by these books. You made the right choice. Run away, run away!

  5. -posting as anonymous because signing up to stuff via phone is too difficult-

    maybe it's just because I'm a Woman, or maybe it's because I'm a writer myself. But I don't see how / why reading this series would scar anyone for life. Particularly PrettyxDanger's comment saying 'all the incest and rape'.

    The very basis of this novel, as outlined on the front of it, is four young children discovering their life to this point has been a lie, falling victim to a Sadistic Grandmother's desire to punish them simply for being Corrine and Christopher's offspring and to better validate her own hatred that Corrine dared to find love AND have children whom were beautiful, something she never has been and never could be.

    I can read this series over, and over, and over again without even thinking, because it is so beautifully written. But hey, that's just my opinion.

  6. Only a person who possesses a high sense of self loathing and anger at the world in general, and who has to her recollection (since the inner workings of her cognitive functioning seem so vapid) no recognizable accomplishments, could conjur such a critical review of this novel. Your scathing implications of the author's writing and plot symmetry imply that you, in fact, lack what she is thereof describing: talent borne of the morsel of inspiration. Happy New Year and good luck to you in delving into the world of scarred victims and their struggle (fictious or not) to survive. May your future endeavors be more prickled with intelligence and compassion than your efforts to berate. Or, should I say in terms you will understand: Woot. Woot. Have fun understanding them funny thangs yer maw told ya to never read...

  7. Obviously, you are or were too immature to have a liking for these novels. I've read them quite a few times and am excited for the remake movie this coming Saturday. I didn't read these books until I was in my early 20's and a new mom myself. It just intrigues my mind as to how a mother could do this to her children. I don't care if I had to strip or sell organs to get stability for my child, I'd do it in a heart beat so he would not be without.

  8. Don't be dissuaded. I think you're right on the money! I haven't read these books since early eighties and in middle school but I caught the new movie recently. I was very moved by this story when young, thought it so tragic but in looking back, your descriptive impressions and review very much match my now adult recollections. This story is whacked! Great job!

  9. Looks like the blog author's commentary struck a chord with some Andrews fans. Surprised? I am not. People who like to wallow in filth usually accuse those who don't of being deficient somehow. It's like victim-blaming, in a way.

    As a writer and a mother and a woman (no capitalization necessary, kthx), I am myself unimpressed with this book series and Ms. Andrews' alleged talent. Job well done on this review.