A) I don't see how what he died of precludes anyone from getting those records and trying to find out where the kid's buried so that if nothing else they can get some closure, and
B) YOUR LITTLE SISTER TESTED POSITIVE FOR ARSENIC POISONING. CATHY TESTED POSITIVE FOR ARSENIC POISONING. YOU YOURSELF TESTED POSITIVE FOR ARSENIC POISONING. YOU GAVE THE MOUSE A DOUGHNUT THAT YOUR YOUNGER SIBLINGS HAD BEEN EATING, AND IT WENT TOES-UP AN HOUR LATER. FUTURE MEDICAL DOCTOR, EVERYBODY!
|The original version of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" was a very short, traumatic book.|
Carrie, by the way, hasn't stopped crying since this car trip was proposed.
One of the things I love about Andrewsland is its blissful, almost gleeful use of the Idiot Plot. In the immortal words of Roger Ebert, the Idiot Plot is any plot that would be resolved in five minutes if everyone in the story were not an idiot. Andrews, over-the-top as ever, takes the Idiot Plot one step further: not only are all the characters idiots, but she seems to assume that the audience is also made up on idiots, in a big idiot circus sort of way--as if we all accept the author's word as fiat.
In a way, it's a lot like listening to a little kid make up a story. Little-kid storytelling is a story centered around a central image, one particular point that the kid wants to make ("This is a story about a dog who drove a car to Disneyland."). Everything else, no matter how whacked-out, implausible, or random, is secondary to getting across that central point ("How did the dog buy a car?" "He found a buried treasure!" "How did he dig up the treasure?" "He's a dog, duh."). As long as that dog gets to drive that car, how he did it is not an issue.
Likewise, Andrews is way more interested in making a point about her characters than she is at developing a feasible plot. This is probably for the best, as Andrews was, in her way, pretty good at character development, in the sense that her characters were more-or-less interesting people doing interesting things. Whenever she had to deal with plot, however, she frequently wrote herself into corners, creating implausible situations that the reader is expected to take in stride so long as it continues to facilitate character development. Plot, when it happens, is pretty clunky and painful.
For example. The official story of Cory's death is that Mommy Dearest took him to the hospital under a false name, where he died. Later that day, she had him buried under a false name. There are enough holes in this story to play a mighty fine game of golf. A woman walks in off the streets carrying a dying child and no one thinks to investigate this? Were the authorities never involved? Did Mommy Dearest present herself as the child's mother, and if not, how did she explain how she'd even gotten hold of this kid?
Perhaps we the readers are supposed to recognize that this is all a bold-faced lie Mommy Dearest concocted to placate her other children (who, as previously noted, are about as sharp as a loaf of wet bread, and who in any case were hardly in a position to fact-check her). But there's never any sign that the kids doubt her version of events, even after they learn she lied about the pneumonia. In any case, they later tell Paul the same story, and he doesn't seem to question it either--even though he is a doctor who would know the standard procedure in such a strange case. The point is that if none of the characters question it, the readers aren't supposed to either. Which means that we are all officially as dumb as Cathy.
Likewise, we the reader are expected to simply go along with Andrews when she tell us, in the course of a single page, that Paul casually broke every known rule of medical ethics by breezing into hospitals all over the state of Virginia, flashing his medical credentials and a big smile at the nurses, and rifling through all their medical records for the past five years or so.
While this is happening, Carrie and Chris stay outside in the backseat of the car: Chris sulking, Carrie sobbing because all this time she thought her twin was in Heaven, not in some cold snow-crusted graveyard and CATHY WILL YOU PLEASE GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR NAVEL LONG ENOUGH TO REALIZE WHAT THIS IS DOING TO YOUR SISTER? SERIOUSLY, CATHY. LOOK AT YOUR LIFE. LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.
Finally, after coming up with no leads on Cory's death or burial place, Paul drives them to Foxworth Hall. Much to Cathy's amazement, Carrie points out the house at once and shouts that "that's where we used to live with Cory! Please let me go inside and see my real momma!" Tellingly, Cathy is only amazed that Carrie recognized the house at all, since she only saw it once from the outside when she was five (they left via a back door). She doesn't seem to notice Carrie's plea to see her "real momma" because even clueless Carrie realizes that Cathy sucks on every conceivable level as a parent and a person.
So the trip ends with nothing accomplished, except for providing "more proof that my mother was a liar beyond belief," as Cathy puts it. She's thinking this while she has shower-sex with Paul, with yet more deathless prose to be explored as Cathy gushes, "Oh, I could kiss Paul everywhere and feel no shame, for loving him was better than smelling roses on a sunny summer day, better than dancing to beautiful music with the best of all partners." Was it better than a baby bunny, Cathy? Better than kittens? Better than cupcakes?
|Was it better than a kitten WITH a cupcake?|
Meanwhile, it's apparently Christmas AGAIN, as Cathy's ballet company is planning for an upcoming performance of The Nutcracker, as well as Cinderella. Julian shows up as a favor to his mother (I'm not sure if I mentioned earlier that his mother and father, Marisha and Georges, actually run this dance company) to play the male lead. He's still got the mega-horn for Cathy, and hints that if she sleeps with him he could make sure she gets the lead in both plays. Amazingly, Cathy verbally backhands him and leaves.
Of course, she wins both roles anyway, because she's the bestest ballerina in the whole widest world. It's her first chance to play a leading role, and it is a staggering success.
Julian is still convinced that if she would only go to New York with him, they could make history. The head of the school, Madame Zolta, is a dear sweet charming gentle old Russian lady whom Julian promises "will be just like your mother!" (Good God! thinks Cathy in what's actually a pretty funny aside.) Cathy will love New York! Julian will take her sightseeing, introduce her to all the famous people he knows, take her to shows, to restaurants, to department stores. (SPOILER ALERT: absolutely none of this happens when Cathy finally gets to the city.) Still drunk on her first real professional triumph, Cathy finally agrees. Now she's just got to break the news to the family.
Paul is surprisingly cool about it. In spite of everything, he makes a really nice speech about how he's never regretted taking in Cathy and Chris because he feels that, in helping support their talents, he's contributing to the world. Carrie? Paul hopes she stays at home with him and marries a nice local boy so he can see her every now and then. Look, just admit that Carrie is a hopeless case and write her off, okay?
Carrie herself is absolutely furious and pitches a pint-sized tantrum: "You cannot go! You promised that we would all stay together and now you and Chris both go away and leave me! Take me too! Take me!" Carrie is twelve going on thirteen, mind.
And Chris? Chris basically tells her to try not to suck any dicks on the way to the airplane.
|Oh, if only this would happen.|
You know how in, well, normal media, when the heroine arrives in New York City for the first time and there's usually a montage of famous landmarks and sights and sounds because it is FUCKING NEW YORK CITY? None of that here! Instead, Cathy is whisked away from the airport to Madame Zolta, a wizened, terrible, surly Russian lady who speaks in an odd, stilted accent that is thankfully not rendered in dialect. Also, she's ugly. Did I mention she's ugly? She is so very very ugly. Cathy just can't get over how ugly she is and misses no excuse in the future to fill us in on the depths of her hideousness.
I honestly can't tell Madame Zolta and Madame Marisha apart. They are almost identical characters with almost identical personalities--both ugly, arrogant, black-eyed elderly Russian ex-ballerinas who both run successful ballet companies. The primary difference between them is that one is Julian's mom and the other isn't.
And yet, I kind of like Madame Z. She seems a tough, shrewd old bird, with a very deeply hidden soft spot; she has a habit of pronouncing "love" as "luv" (we find out later that she spells it that way, too) that is more endearing than annoying, and she sees through both Cathy and Julian's relationship on the spot. She is, quite possibly, one of the more awesome female secondary characters in this book--at least compared to the two we are about to meet.
They are Cathy's new roommates, Yolanda Lange and April Summers. April is described as gentle, pretty, soft-spoken, and sweet. Cathy says she befriends April right away. We will have to take her word on that since April is literally never heard from again after her introductory paragraph.
Yolanda, on the other hand, is one of the great big sloppy ho-bags of Andrewsland. She's a sultry, black-haired, black-eyed, exotic beauty who sleeps her way through the dance troupe. She's even had Julian on a couple of occasions and is insanely jealous of Cathy for "stealing" him from her. And for some reason, Cathy feels the need to describe Yolanda's tits for us:
Her breasts, when I saw them, were small hard lumps, all large dark nipples, but she wasn't ashamed of their size. She delighted in walking about naked, showing off, and soon I found out that her breasts mirrored her personality--small, hard and mean.Do I need to deconstruct this paragraph? I feel I badly need to deconstruct it. With bullet points.
- Cathy implies that it is inevitable that she will eventually see the breasts of every other woman she encounters.
- Cathy further implies that small breasts are something Yolanda should feel ashamed of.
- It's implied several times that Cathy herself has a pretty small rack (she describes her bras as "tiny," she has to gain weight to compete with her mother's cleavage, and later on, one of her lovers cracks a joke that her breasts aren't in the same league as her rear end), therefore she probably hasn't much room to talk.
- Also this book contains a heroine who is in serious competition with her OWN MOTHER'S CLEAVAGE WTF.
- While I've seen a lot of other people's tits in my time, I probably couldn't pick them out of a line-up. I'm assuming that if I was say, a lesbian or a mammogram technician--someone with a vested interest in women's breasts--I might pick up on such details as size, color, and nipple placement. So I guess what I'm asking here is . . . is Cathy a little creepy, or is this something a lot of people notice?
- Given that at some point in history every part of the human body was used as an indicator of personality, I'm pretty sure that there must have been some form of like, mammary phrenology that extrapolated traits based on one's breasts. I bet it was really popular while it lasted, too.
Looking down at the flowers thrown on the stage, Cathy spots a single yellow buttercup with a note attached. Instantly, she knows her family's in the audience. The flower's from Chris, a tribute to the time when they were all "Daddy's four yellow buttercups." And yeah, it's cheesy, but genuinely heartwarming gestures tend to be cheesy, and Cathy gets all teary-eyed. SEE, CHRIS? THIS IS WHAT IT IS LIKE TO LOVE YOUR SISTER IN A NOT-CREEPY WAY.
After the show, Paul takes her out for sex. I MEAN DINNER. They have sex and dinner and, during the latter, he asks her to marry him. Cathy says yes. (SPOILER ALERT: she breaks the engagement almost immediately.)
Julian celebrates their success by buying a new Cadillac (every car in the Dollanganger Saga is a Cadillac) and inviting Cathy to take the first ride with him. They cruise all over New York, with Julian constantly badgering Cathy about why she won't sleep with him. When she rejects him (again), he calls her a cocktease. Yo, Andrews said "cocktease"? With all this "swelling hillock of maleness" and "male organ" and "that part of himself," she actually said "cocktease"? You go, Virginia! You rock out with your swelling hillock of maleness out!*
Finally Cathy is sick of his macho bullshit and demands he take her home. Instead, Julian throws her out in the middle of Brooklyn, miles from her apartment, steals her purse, and leaves her to find her way home in the rain. JULIAN, YOU ARE ALSO A PRINCE.
Cathy hails a cab home, then rushes up to her apartment where Yolanda answers the door wearing only a pair of panties. Great. She begs Yolanda to loan her the cab fare. Yolanda agrees, on the condition that Cathy get her a date with Chris. Cathy shoots back that Yolanda can drop dead, that Chris wouldn't get involved with the likes of her, and "as for Julian, I don't care if he sleeps with ten whores like you!"
Um, Cathy? Ho-bag though she may be, she still just gave you twenty bucks in 1960s money.** You could at least say your brother's gay or something.
Yolanda snaps back, "I'm not a whore! It's just that I'm not the kind of tease you are--and between the two, I choose my kind!" Woman's kind of got a point there, Cathy. Maybe she's not very discriminating but least she owns her sexuality.
Cathy storms upstairs to Julian's room and demands he give her purse back. Julian drags Cathy inside and pins her to the floor, telling her that she's his and that if he ever sees her with another man, he'll kill the man and her. This is really only one step up from Chris declaring that Cathy is "his" before raping her, an act that implied that by taking her virginity, he had effectively ruined her for any other man. Julian also seems to believe that Cathy won't sleep with him because she's a virgin, to the point of being obsessed with the question. Likewise he implies that once she's had him, she'll be "ruined" for any other man because he's just so awesome in bed. Cathy, whose taste in men is suspect, expresses no interest in wanting to sleep with him because she recognizes he's bad news.
But here's the really interesting thing about Julian: he is the only one of Cathy's many, many love interests who is not a daddy-figure. Chris physically resembles Cathy's father (as well as sharing a Y chromosome with the man); Paul acts as her parent; Bart (later on) is her literal stepfather. On some level, she loves all of these men. With Julian, however, she immediately acknowledges that she's not even physically attracted to him, much less in love with him, even after she's married to the guy.
I personally think that Julian is meant to be a dark mirror image of Chris--someone let Chris's id off its chain, and it turned into this guy. Except that Chris doesn't seem to be doing too hot a job keep his id on a chain. Seriously, every scene with Chris and Cathy gives me the sad feeling that the Trunchbull was just doing the world a favor.
And of course the great thing about Andrews is that you can't quite bring yourself to believe that she's doing any of this stuff deliberately. You don't get the sense that she took any time to carefully coordinate Cathy's psychological motivations or establish subconscious patterns. What we're seeing here is Andrews' own unconscious, splayed out in lurid color all over the page.
In one of Cathy's few reasonable acts in this series, she escapes Julian and goes to Madame Z, telling her that between Yolanda and Julian, she no longer feels safe in her apartment. Madame Z, being awesome as usual, consents to give her a small raise, enough that she can afford to move into an apartment by herself.
And so, for the first and what is to be the only time in this series, Cathy is on her own! She is a modern working girl in the heart of New York City, living independently, chasing her dreams. I raise a glass to you, Cathy! I toss my hat up in the air! You're gonna make it after all!
Well, shit, that lasted for all of one page.
Julian finally finds Cathy to give her the good news that Madame Z, capitalizing on Julian and Cathy's meteoric success, has finagled for the company to perform a two-week engagement in London. Well done, Madame Z! I knew I loved you for a reason! Cathy temporarily forgives Julian in favor of being excited, and Julian takes the opportunity to sweet-talk Cathy again, promising her love, fame, a life together. Finally Cathy has to break it to him that she's engaged. Julian calls her a tease again and storms out.
Sigh. For a series that started with all the main characters locked up in a single bedroom, I kind of miss those days, because now that they've all finally gotten out, it actually seems to slow the story down. All they do is have the same conversations over and over again. Chris is all "You're mine, Cathy!" and Cathy is all "I hate you, Momma!" and Julian is all "You're mine, Cathy!" and Paul is all "You must let go of your anger, padawan, and incidentally I'm going to perform oral sex on you."
Coming up: Thrill as nothing happens for nearly 100 pages! Cathy gets married for the first of many times! The conclusion to the Sad, Sad Tale of Poor Damn Julia! And . . . oh God, this is a boring section, y'all. I may be able to get you out of here early next time.
*This is probably as good a moment as any to note that one of Andrews's close family friends once alleged that Virginia never saw a naked man in her life. WHICH EXPLAINS SO MUCH.
**About $145.00 in modern money. Which begs the question . . . why didn't she just take the subway?