Monday, February 18, 2013

Petals on the Wind, Part Six: In Which We are Going to Carry On as if Nothing Happen

After confronting Julian with her upcoming nuptials, Cathy goes back home for--oh look, another Christmas.  Considering that this book culminates in a dramatic Christmas Eve face-off, I'd like to say that making Christmas a constant touch-point is Andrews's way of foreshadowing, but I think she just really really enjoys gift-porn. 

"Thank God I had Paul to escape to," Cathy gushes.  "And I wasn't going to let Julian take the joy from this Christmas.  For this was the time Paul and I had agreed to announce our engagement, and the only person who could ruin my happiness now was Chris."  AND HE WILL.

What did Andrews give her readers this Christmas?  A gift montage!  Oh, Ginny, how did you know?

To everyone, from Paul: an enormous cabinet color TV, so that they can watch Cathy perform the televised Nutcracker in color.

Ostensibly in honor of Cathy, yet something the whole family can enjoy year-round!  A gift that keeps on giving.  I applaud you, sir!  A+. 

To Cathy, from Chris: a gold heart locket with a tiny diamond in the lid, plus some bad poetry. Chris makes a point of telling her he paid for it with money earned from bussing tables between classes at Harvard or Princeton or whatever Old Ivy school is saddled with his bottomless creepitude.

I give you gold with a diamond that you can barely see
But the gem would be castle-sized if it expressed all that I feel for thee.
I give you gold because it endures, and love like the eternal sea.
That is . . . not quite as creepy as your usual displays of affection, Christopher, but it's not as purely innocent as throwing her a buttercup in memory of your daddy.  Also you rhymed "see" with "sea" and used "you" and "thee" to refer to the same person in the same sentence, which is so not on.  C+ .

To Carrie, from Cathy: a red velvet princess-styled dress. 

Cathy claims to have gone through "every shop in New York" to find a dress that would fit Carrie, although I'm sure that's hyperbolic, given the number of shops in NYC.  Also, Carrie's thirteen or fourteen here, but she loves the dress and is later shown hugging it in her sleep, so I'll give you an A for effort, minus a letter-grade for forgetting age-appropriateness, leaving you with a solid B.

To Chris, from Cathy: an ugly-ass handmade sweater.

See me after class.

(On second thought, the hideous blue turtleneck Chris wears on the stepback cover might be the Christmas sweater from this scene.  Sorry for bashing your fashion sense in that entry, Chris.  I should have known it was Cathy's fault.)

To Cathy, from Paul: a grey fox coat, for New York winters.

It's a swank gift, but I'm going to go with Chris and say this is the sort of present a man gets his mistress, not his ward.  On the other hand, it is a gift of impeccable taste and practicality, although I'm still wondering what's Paul's yearly take-home if he can afford a fur coat AND a new color TV in the 1960s.  I'm giving it a provisional B-.

Over the course of this chapter, Chris has either three or four incidents of pure creepy jealousy.  I'm unclear on the precise number because Cathy and Chris have two conversations that are essentially identical.  To wit, they have the same argument they've had every other chapter since the beginning of the book: Chris is all "you're mine,there is no one else for me " and Cathy is all "no, it's over, go find another girl" and Chris is all "WHY MUST YOU ALWAYS DEFY ME, WOMAN?"  This conversation has happened nine hundred times since the book began and no new insights have come of it, yet the author feels we either haven't gotten the point or we're not yet tired of itFor ease of reviewing, I am going to combine these two scenes, so those of you reading along at home will notice the divergence.

Incident One: When Cathy opens Paul's gift, Chris storms out of the room, stomps off upstairs, and slams the door, no doubt to brood like a Cullen over his unrequited love.

The second incident comes when they're all watching Cathy's pre-recorded performance of The Nutcracker on their new TV set.  Chris makes a snarky remark that Julian and Cathy are a little too passionate on stage together and that Cathy needs to "turn that guy off, and quick!"

I . . . I think I need my bullet points.
  • Chris is getting jealous of a televised performance of his sister's role in a piece of classic theater.  
  • The Nutcracker is a tame children's fantasy where the romantic subplot is very innocent and idealized, and he's still suggesting Cathy was too sexy.  God help us if she ever does Salomé
  • This is an almost textbook example of a man trying to control a woman's sexuality in all ways.
  • Chris's attempts to control Cathy's sexuality is what led to him raping her in the attic: he saw that she was attracted to a man that wasn't him and used sex both to punish her for straying and to "ruin" her for this potential rival.
  • From his very language, he's implying that Cathy "turned Julian on" and that it is now her job to turn him off again, even though the sexual interest is all one-sided on Julian's part and Cathy has expressed time and again that she wants nothing to do with him.
  • Again, the idea that a woman who turns a man on is then responsible for turning him off is Chris's attitude toward his attraction to Cathy.  He's not responsible, y'all!  He can't control himself!  She's just too damn hot! 
  • . . . . and then we recall that Chris fixates on Cathy because she looks like their mother and oops, there goes my lunch.
The third incident begins with Cathy slipping out of Paul's bedroom later that night only to have Chris catch her leaving.  Cathy later finds Chris in the garden, snapping the heads off roses with the hedge clippers in a fit of silent manly rage.  AW, LOOK AT YOU, CHRIS, BEING ALL BUTTHURT.  MANLY BIG-BRO BUTTHURT AMONGST THE ROSES.  Chris complains that the fur coat makes Cathy seem like a "kept woman," to which Cathy counters that she and Paul are about to be married.

Chris comes up with an amazing litany of reasons why the marriage is a bad idea, trying to couch them as concern for Cathy while damning himself with every word.   Paul is too old for her (quoth Chris); he will be "old and dried up sexually" just as Cathy reaches her sexual peak; she'd be better off with Julian rather than such an old man (remember this last part, as it will come back to haunt us later).  Besides, if Cathy doesn't plan on having children, then it doesn't matter who she marries, so she might as well marry Chris, right?  As if the potential for genetic mutation is the only thing keeping her from marrying him.

Cathy counters this argument with the baffling accusation that Chris has no right to judge her relationship with Paul since Chris slept with Ho-Bag Yolanda.  I wasn't even aware that Chris had been in the same room with Yolanda, and a quick skim-through reveals that this is not some scene I simply overlooked. But the logic here, I assume, is "how dare you question my judgement when you're obviously so misguided that you sleep with avowed ho-bags?"  Or perhaps "how dare you accuse me of being a ho-bag when you don't seem to judge other ho-bags for their ho-baggage!" Or even "at least I'm not as big a ho-bag as the ho-bags you sleep with!"  Cathy of course is not a ho-bag, because she only sleeps around out of love.
You're one or the other, so you might as well pick!

Finally, Chris threatens to tell Paul about their sexual relationship, believing that Paul won't want Cathy after that.  Cathy counters by saying that she's already told Paul everything, leaving Chris to stew in his own juices.

Cathy heads back to New York to prepare for her upcoming performance in Romeo and Juliet.  If you've ever seen professional ballet up close, it is an ugly, ugly business, and Andrews nails it: Julian and Cathy, exhausted, frustrated, dripping sweat all over each other, are at each other's throats after practicing the same routine for hours.  Julian screams that Cathy can't do anything right; Cathy counters that Julian's being too rough with her and lifts her arms to show him how her armpits have been rubbed raw with lifting.  Other than the dialogue, which is classic Andrews hokum, this is probably one of the most strongly written scenes in the entire book.  Don't say I never said anything nice about this series.

This short scene is significant for reasons other than the atypically vivid writing.  A few days ago, Cathy tells us, Julian tripped her, causing her to hurt her knee.  Now she can't trust him enough to go limp when she leaps into his arms.  This single small mention will develop into a chronic knee condition that will last for the next two books.  While the bad knee keeps cropping up, the origin of the injury is very underplayed.  In fact, I only just found this one sentence during this read-through.  For years I thought Cathy's knee injury was another one of those scenes Andrews didn't bother to tell us about.  Looks like I was wrong.     
We skip ahead to opening night.  Naturally, she and Julian are terrific and sensational and in all ways perfect.

After curtain-call, Cathy dashes to her dressing room, where a strange, elegant woman woman waits for her.  The woman introduces herself as Paul's estranged sister Amanda, whom we know only from a throwaway line two hundred pages ago.  Cathy instantly knows she means trouble, and she's right.  Amanda denounces Cathy as the latest in Paul's long history of very young mistresses dating back to Poor Damn Julia.

Cathy shouts back, "I know about Julia!  He's told me.  If she drove him to others, I don't blame him; she wasn't a real wife; she was a housekeeper, a cook--not a wife!"  Um.  Honey?  Did you and I hear the same story?  Because in the one I heard, the only way she "drove him to others" was when she asked him politely to stop raping her.

Amanda agrees with me.  Julia was a wonderful woman, she says, whose only sin was murdering her own son, and even that can be forgiven because Paul drove her insane.  Now the entire town (I'm assuming Paul's hometown, not New York; New York wouldn't give a shit) is talking about how the good doctor knocked up the underaged girl he adopted.  OMG CARRIE?!

No no no, of course it's Cathy.  Amanda claims that the hospital records state that Cathy's bleeding-on-her-feet was actually a miscarriage and that Cathy had an abortion to remove a two-headed, three-legged fetus that Paul now keeps in a jar on his desk.  Which doesn't sound like the most sensitive thing to display openly at a family practice, but okay, whatever, my dentist has a display of misshapen human teeth in her office.*

Cathy, naturally, flips out.  One of her greatest fears after Chris raped her was that God might punish them with a "monster baby."  Moreover, she's actually seen this fetus in Paul's office and knows Amanda is telling the truth.

While Cathy's stunned speechless, Amanda delivers the knock-out punch: Cathy can't marry Paul because Julia is still alive.  She gives Cathy photos of a withered Julia lying in a hospital bed hooked to machines, trapped in a vegative state but still very much alive and still Paul's legal wife.

All in all, this scene is fucking awesome.  It's everything an Andrews novel should be: melodramatic, gruesome, morbid, lives ruined, dreams shattered, all topped off with a living dead woman and a two-headed baby in a jar.  The only thing I wish is that we'd had a little more build-up with Amanda, since her brief mention two hundred pages ago was perhaps too little to establish her in the readers' memory, but once she came on the scene . . . wow.  Stone-cold, girlfriend.

As soon as Amanda leaves, Cathy all but breaks her ankle getting to the telephone so that she can have a calm, mature discussion with Paul about all the things she's just been told.  Paul quickly reassures her that Amanda's just trolling. Cathy hangs up, her love for Paul stronger than ever.

. . . nah, I'm kidding.  She doesn't talk to Paul.  She just marries Julian first thing the next morning.



Immediately after the wedding--as in immediately, as in the luggage is strapped to the roof of a cab with the meter running while they say "I do"--the dance troupe flies to London to perform with the Royal Ballet.  At no point are we told that Cathy might have clued Paul in on the little change in wedding plans. 

Short tangent: Andrews' writing suffers from severe claustrophobia.  It presents a desperately narrow world-view that lacks any larger context than Andrews' own limited experience, and again, implies that the only experience is interior experience, which could explain why some Andrews' girls seem so damn self-centered.  Recently I re-read Ruby (I'm not sure why), and noticed one of the critical differences between Neiderman's writing and Andrews': when a Neiderman heroine goes somewhere, the narrative provides us with some establishing topical details.  Ruby wanders through the French Quarter admiring the beautiful 18th century homes, the grey Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks, the music coming out of open doorways, the wrought-iron fence railings.  When she eats a gourmet meal, she describes crawfish etoufee and shrimp po'boys.  In contrast, when Heaven goes to her first restaurant, the most imaginative dish on the menu is plain roast beef and chocolate pudding.    

Similarly, when Cathy goes to London, the only detail she provides is that the plumbing sucks.  We don't even find out what ballet the troupe performs, only that Cathy played the lead and was, as usual, perfect.

In London, Julian displays textbook abusive-husband symptoms, up to and including following her into the bathroom, which he sees as perfectly reasonable since it's not like he doesn't know what she's doing in there (one could argue that if he already knows what she's doing in there he doesn't need to follow her, but somehow I suspect that observation would end with a beat-down).  On the plus side, Julian is truly awesome in bed, so . . . yay?

Within twelve hours of the wedding, Cathy regrets her decision.  Yet again, this is something for which to blame Mommy Dearest, on account of her mother was impulsive and made poor decisions and now Cathy is doomed to repeat her mistakes and I'm sorry, hon, but you really can't pin this one on Mommy Dearest.  This was your own stupid.

And the marriage only goes downhill from here.  Coming up: I think we're going to make it all the way to Part Four, where Cathy finally starts getting around to that revenge thing she talks so much about.  Also, all the men in this story who were not previously rapists turn out to be rapists!  SPOILER ALERT.


*They were horrific.  One of them looked like a starfish.

**Ha-ha-ha, when I originally wrote that line I had no idea there was a Sassy Gay Friend for Black Swan but once I found it, I had to link to it.


  1. "Also, all the men in this story who were not previously rapists turn out to be rapists!"

    that's basically the synopsis of every V.C. Andrews book I've ever read.

    I seriously am so happy you're doing this again! Mostly because I am waiting for My Sweet Audrina, because it is my favorite Andrews book and delightfully insane.

    1. I'm waiting for the blog on My Sweet Audrina too... loved that book, and this site is hilarious!

  2. I am thrilled you are posting again! Messed-up daddy issues in gothic packaging are my favourite post-Valentines' Day reading. Thanks for that.

    Although Andrews' repeated mentions of The Nutcracker make me wonder if her subconscious isn't showing again. The ballet is, admittedly, much more toned-down than the original book, but certain companies' performances consciously preserve the story's original Daddy Issues (capitalisation totally warranted).

    Check 20 minutes in for the most obvious example of Pretty Not-Okay Touching Of Your Preteen Goddaughter. More, Clara also flat-out tells us that she wants to look as beautiful as her mother so she can dance with her 'handsome papa'; her mother later appears dancing as a caged bird owned by Clara's godfather; Clara's adult ballerina also dances as a doll trapped in one room in a dollhouse BUILT by Clara's godfather; the Nutcracker Prince himself, whom Clara later marries, is in fact her godfather's nephew but is heavily hinted in the book to have been his own doll-like creation...actually, was this director an Andrews fan?

    It's just - augh, Andrews. I doubt she was familiar with the ballet's source material, but her subconscious just fixed on yet another highly suggestive thing to throw Cathy into.

    1. Yes it is also on Netflix! Thanks! I actually used to watch this as a kid and I never really made the connection until now! LOL! There was a lot of sick stuff in entertainment in the 80's. I remember the very special episodes of Different Strokes and Fallen Angel (1981) with Melinda Dillon, Dana Hill and Richard Masur. They were supposed to help identify icky feelings but they just introduced them and gave me ideas I hadn't thought before. I also remember being traumatized by nuclear war with The Day After and that one Twilight Zone episode also with Melinda Dillon! That was a great episode though! But man did my heart skip a beat when the Emergency Broadcast System would come on!

    2. Oh, the 80s, when all programming directed toward kids had to have some sort of Redeeming Message at the end, and the message was always sort of traumatizing. I think my favorite is the Disney special where a full-body puppet of Winnie the Pooh tells Piglet how to say "no" to bad SONG! ("I know I'm not at all to blame, I've done nothing bad/And now I'm going right away to tell my Mom and Dad!")

    3. I remember that!!! I found it on Youtube!

      In the comments:

      "I gotta sing this at the airport when they do the patdowns."

      Good point! Makes me wonder which era is more f'ed up when I think about it!

  3. SO GOOD to see you again. Really, it's worth the long waits because your posts are so fucking fabulous.

  4. Excellent! I'm so glad that you're back! I needed to hear your expert and brilliant snark again.

    Question--why does the angel and devil silhouette picture not have its own mouseover comment?

  5. Praise Jesus - she's back! I've been skipping by here for months!

  6. I love your posts! Re: Cathy's knee, she actually hurt it the first time dancing in the attic after her "rotting, walking, talking vegetables" psychotic break. (She says she doesn't care if she ruined her knee forever.)

  7. I love your posts! Re: Cathy's knee, she actually hurt it the first time dancing in the attic after her "rotting, walking, talking vegetables" psychotic break. (She claims she doesn't care if she ruined her knee forever.)

  8. "Amanda claims that the hospital records state that Cathy's bleeding-on-her-feet was actually a miscarriage and that Cathy had an abortion to remove a two-headed, three-legged fetus that Paul now keeps in a jar on his desk."

    Okay but a.) does Andrews not know the difference between an abortion and a miscarriage? Like seriously, because if you have a miscarriage and need a D&C to clean things out so you don't end up with an infection/bleeding to death, that's not an abortion? I'm pretty sure that what with the SPONTANEOUS MASSIVE BLEEDING that Cathy miscarried accidentally.

    Also b.) were abortions even legal then? Like to the point that the HOSPITAL would be doing one???

    And c.) Uh, yeah, I'm pretty sure that that's not how fetal development WORKS, also. I mean, how far along even was Cathy? Like an 8 week old embryo is, what, maybe an inch long? Like seriously, what??? Between the malnutrition (which honestly makes it SHOCKING that she even would be able to get pregnant because when you're starving, your body isn't so into making you ovulate) and the whole arsenic thing, how far could a fetus possibly develop before the body went "Nope" and miscarried??

  9. A) I think Andrews was implying that Amanda spread the rumor that Cathy's medically necessary D&C was really an abortion in order to make it look like Paul got Cathy pregnant Even with that explanation, though, there's some confusion in the text itself as to whether Cathy miscarried Chris's child or if she just had some breakthrough bleeding incident that required surgical intervention to clean up. A little research shows that D&Cs are occasionally performed to relieve extremely heavy menstrual periods, particularly in cases where the patient is dangerously anemic (which Cathy was).

    B) The only itty-bitty teeny-weeny nearest thing to a point Andrews had with the miscarriage/D&C/abortion scene is that yes, prior to Row v Wade, South Carolina permitted abortion in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother, and likelihood of a damaged fetus (meaning that Cathy would have qualified under all four criteria). But obviously she didn't have a miscarriage AND an abortion for the same fetus.

    C) They leave the attic in November, and the audition scene is the day after Christmas, so you're right, Cathy could only have been pregnant eight weeks, max. That, plus the fact those eight weeks were filled with sunshine and regular meals and reduced stress, and it's looking more and more like this was just a really bad period that got away from her.

    Even if she did miscarry, the evidence indicates that the jar-baby isn't hers. Since Amanda hasn't visited Paul in years, there'd be no way for her to know about a recently acquired jar-baby. However, if what Paul says is true and he's had it since college, Amanda might have counted on him keeping it.

    But the upshot is that the book seems to vacillate back and forth on all these points. I mean, I saw a professional review last week that was still stating flat-out "Cathy has a two-headed baby and keeps it in a jar" and if this point's confusing people who actually get paid to read this stuff...

  10. Cathy goes a-thieving in August and kisses Bart. The Chris rape scene happens in September so Cathy could have been 3 months preggers.
    Really enjoying this site, hysterical!