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.

Witness the twins. They take this moment to wake up, and immediately announce, "We don't like it here!" Which is I suppose somewhat refreshing, considering they could have been preternaturally empathetic winsome little urchins, but for the entire novel, these kids basically only have two settings: whine and whimper.

The Trunchbull appears with an enormous tray of food, although she explains that from now on, she'll be using a picnic basket, since going up and down three flights of stairs with enough food to make three meals for four people is a bit of a strain on the old ticker, wot? This is seriously one of those things that an editor could have countered by simply having her use the picnic basket from the start and leaving out a good two paragraphs of pointless exposition.

The Trunchbull gives them detailed instructions for their food, telling them how it is to be divided for the day. Strangely, on this their first day of imprisonment, she even promises that if they are good, she might bring them cookies or cake, which comes outta left field considering her attitude the night before, not to mention her behavior for the rest of this scene. After each meal, she tells them, they are to brush their teeth, since they can't visit the dentist until their grandfather dies (UM GUYS DID YOU CATCH THAT DID YOU CATCH THAT DID YOU MOTHERFUCKING CATCH THAT?). They are to always be clean and fully dressed. They are never to use the bathroom together, a concept that Cathy had never even considered, but then again this is also the chick who finds nothing wrong with checking out her mother's delicious gams, so her definition of modesty differs greatly from the norm.

My God, the Trunchbull will not stop talking for this scene. She explains that at the back of the closet, there is a secret passage to the attic, where the children are allowed to play, but they are not to go there during the hours the servants are cleaning the second floor, lest they be heard. I . . . got nothing for this one. Aren't they on the third floor, so the attic would technically be a fourth floor so . . . how does this work, exactly? Is this house laid out according to non-Euclidean geometry or what?

With that, the Trunchbull leaves them a list of rules they must follow and finally vacates to let them have breakfast in peace, or as much peace as the annoying damn twins will allow. The food is of course wretched, cold, and greasy. Then they read the monster list of rules, which demands a little overview all its own.

  • They are never to look out the windows, or even touch the drapes.
  • They are always to say grace before each meal.
  • They are never to look at the grandmother, or to show any sign of defiance against her, or think bad thoughts about her because God can read their minds and will presumably give her a phone call.
  • If they clog the toilet, it will stay that way until they leave, and they will have to use chamber pots which their mother will empty for them.
  • Girls and boys are to wash their clothes in the bathtub, separately, for God sees everything and will know if someone's underwear brushes someone else's.
  • If any child is not yet toilet-trained (I'm lookin' at you, Cory!), that child will be beaten for soiling the bed.
  • Members of the opposite sex are not to look at one another.
  • They are not allowed to look at, touch, or play with, or think about their genitals--even when they are washing them.
  • They are to read the Bible for an hour every day, and if they cannot read, they are to sit and stare at the Bible for one hour in hopes of gaining salvation by osmosis.
  • They are always to be fully dressed. Always. I assume this means even when in the shower.

Frankly, it just seems like these rules reveal a deep obsession with bodily functions and bathrooms.

Welcome to another continuing theme in this book: Cathy realizes something's rotten in Denmark, Chris immediately assures her that there's not. Cathy worries about being punished for breaking a rule (and these rules are clearly designed so that it is impossible not to break one), and Chris insists that this would never happen because their mother would not allow them to be punished. Cathy makes perfectly reasonable judgement calls based on the evidence at hand, and Chris blows her off because ha-ha, Cathy is a damn emotional female prone to exaggeration. It is the most condescending, patronizing mansplaining bullshit ever. Granted, I may be expecting a lot from characters who are supposed to be twelve and fourteen respectively, but he really doesn't change much in the next three books, y'all.

When breakfast is over, the kids decide to explore the attic. They find the door at the back of the empty closet (they haven't even bothered to unpack their clothes yet, thinking that they will be here so briefly that it's not even worth it) and go up. The attic is basically the Smithsonian's storage locker: there's old-fashioned clawfoot bathtubs up there, furniture, old trunks, Civil War era uniforms (both teams), and plenty of room to explore. I don't know about you, but as a child I could be fascinated for months by a place like this. Immediately, however, Carrie goes off like a car alarm: "It's hot up here, Cathy! I hate it up here, Cathy!" Jesus Christ, stuff that child in a trunk!

Cathy and Chris, who seem more bent on exploring each other's deeply unsettling sense of sexuality, discover a picture of a beautiful woman with an hourglass figure. Chris, who more and more needs to spend his life alone, raves.

"See the wasp waist, the ballooning hips, the swelling bosom? Inherit a shape like that, Cathy, and you will make a fortune." He took another look at the shapely young woman. "You know, she kind of looks like Momma. If she wore her hair differently and her clothes were modern, she'd be Momma."

OEDIPUS OEDIPUS OEDIPUS OEDIPUS. No really: I think Chris may creep back up here later tonight for some quality time with this painting.

At the far side of the attic, the kids find a schoolroom with finished walls and a real ceiling. There are blackboards, desks, and books. Why is this here? No idea. Cathy, curious, opens a book and drops it immediately when an army of bookworms fall out of it. Chris mocks her for being afraid of bugs: "Cathy, you're twelve, and it's time you grew up. Nobody screams to see a few bookworms. Bugs are a part of life. We humans are the masters, the supreme rulers over all." YEAH, MAYBE, OR MAYBE SHE WASN'T EXPECTING TO HAVE CREEPY-CRAWLIES HOP OUT TO GREET HER, YOU IMPOSSIBLE JACKASS.

The older children are still intrigued at the possibilities of the attic, but the little ones, as can be expected, are hot, bored, and want to play outside. Chris decides to make swings for them out of some of the old trunk lids, climbing up to the high, dangerous rafters and doing a tightrope routine on them, which freaks Cathy out again. They encourage the twins to play-pretend this is a beautiful garden.

Back downstairs for lunch. Immediately, and despite her previous fear of breaking the Trunchbull's rules, Cathy puts the twins in the same bathtub together, reasoning that no one can have a problem with this since they came from the same womb at the same time. Hint: THE GRANDMOTHER WILL HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS. Likewise, she reasons that Chris sitting in the bathroom and talking to her while she bathes isn't the same as "using" the bathroom together. Hint: THE GRANDMOTHER WILL NOT SHARE THIS OPINION.

At least Cathy has enough sense to tell Chris, "We can't do this again. That grandmother--she might catch us, and then she would think it evil." Again, who talks like this? What twelve-year-old girl talks like this? For that matter, what twelve-year-old girl lets her brother in the bathroom while she bathes? What is wrong with this family?

After lunch, Cathy begins to wonder about practical things, like how to summon help if there is an emergency, and what might happen to them if there's a fire. Chris, for once, congratulates Cathy for thinking like an adult, and they plan to make a rope ladder so that they can escape through a window in the case of a fire.

In light of the remainder of the novel, I want you to keep this firmly in mind. These kids had a ladder to the ground from their first day onward. They could have escaped at any time. If nothing else, one of them could have escaped, reentered the house from the ground floor, and used a telephone to summon the police.

The kids are settled for the evening, the little ones playing trains, the elder ones playing checkers, when Mommy Dearest finally shows up, walking funny and weeping, followed by the Trunchbull. Something's up, but the kids are so happy to see their mother that they pile on and hug her, in spite of the obvious physical pain this causes her. Mommy Dearest asks them if their first day was so bad. The twins whine and complain about their me-e-e-e-an older siblings who wouldn't let them out all day. Carrie starts stamping her feet and shrieking to be taken home, upon which the Trunchbull picks her up by her hair.

The two smaller twins gang up on the Trunchbull and no one moves or tells them to stop or grabs hold of the kids or anything until finally the Trunchbull threatens to beat everyone bloody if they don't get these brats to settle down. Corrine's best threat is that if the grandmother is cruel to her children, they'll all leave the house tonight and the grandmother will never see any of them again. The grandmother's response is, essentially, NO ONE CURR.

The grandmother demands Corrine take off her blouse. WHOA HEY LADY THIS FAMILY IS ALREADY CREEPY ENOUGH WHAT WITH THE SHARING OF BATHROOMS AND THE CHECKING OUT OF MOM'S GAMS AND THE--but Corrine, weeping, submits, revealing that her parents gave her fifty lashes with a whip.


Fifty lashes is more than you get for anything but sodomy and treason. Seriously. This is a big, big deal. After ten lashes, grown men were known to pass out. After fifteen, people suffered from permanent scarring and/or lifelong disability. Upwards of that and people flat out died. There are cases of British soldiers who put their service pistols in their mouths before they'd take above twenty. It is a terrible, terrible way to die.

But the grandmother explains to the children that thirty-three of the lashes were for each year of their mother's life, and the final seventeen were for each year she lived in sin with her half-uncle. On that note, she hands the program over to Mommy Dearest and walks out.

As will I. Next update: the kids learn a number of things which by my count they're hearing for the third time, but this time it actually sticks! Also, the famed flowers actually make an appearance in the attic, and it's all symbolic and stuff. Stay tuned!


  1. Oh man, I can tell already that reading these recaps is going to be a joy. Your lack of patience for Chris and his bullshit are divine. *Continues reading even thought it's 4 in the morning*

    1. Here's the thing: I snarked on Chris so much in Petals that I literally forgot I'd ever said anything about him in Flowers until you reminded me.