Welcome to the conclusion of Petals on the Wind! Shit's about to get Jane Eyre around here, complete with fire, crazy first wives, and people stuffed in the attic.
I'm going to apologize right now. In this section I ended up extensively questioning a major plothole that quickly spun out of control, resulting in me spending two paragraphs analyzing how the definition of the word "to" changes the entire outcome of the book. I am not exaggerating. I'm not even being pedantic. The editing in the final section of this book was so shoddy that I was reduced to close analyzing individual prepositions in order to figure out what the hell was going on.
In my defense, it was kind of an important part of the book--it might actually be the book, in my opinion--and it was done in an attempt to finally answer the number one question I've seen regarding this particular book: what happened to Cory's body?
Cathy is now madly in love with Bart Winslow, which was not part of The Plan at all. As for Cathy's dance school, it's suffering from her lack of attention, but Cathy could care less. "I was now a kept woman," she says, "paid to be his mistress." So all those dreams, all that ambition, all that effort . . . nope! Kept woman now! Much more lucrative!
Also, Cathy's missed a period but she's sure that means nothing. Oh, let's not kid ourselves. No book in the history of literature has ever had a period plot without it ending in a pregnancy.
|Okay, that one, but generally speaking...|
Immediately after this, Cathy and Jory run into Mommie Dearest at the post office one day. Mommie Dearest tries to look away (as opposed to, I don't know, leaving), but Jory notices Mommie Dearest's fur coat and goes to pet it. "My mommy's got a fur coat," he says in all innocence. "You're pretty--like my mommy." He asks Mommie Dearest if she has a little boy he can play with.
Cathy snatches him back, looking Mommie Dearest dead in the face as she says "Some women don't deserve to have children." Corinne flees to her limousine before Cathy can change into her leotard and go medieval on her ass, and I'm like, you took a limo to the post office? Really?
Later that day, Cathy drops the baby-bomb on Bart. He, of course, is furious. "You told me there was no need for precautions!" I'm not even going to ask what "precautions" you took when you raped her that time, Mr. Winslow. The book's already forgotten that happened, and so will I.
Cathy says there was no need for precautions because this was her plan from the start. If Bart doesn't leave his wife and marry her, she'll leave and take his child with her. When he asks her what the hell game she's playing, she replies, "Just a woman's game. The only game she can play and be sure of winning." Oh, you wily women and your vaginas!
It's Christmas, everyone's favorite time of the year! While Emma takes Jory on his first visit to Santa, since this is not a lost memory she will regret at any point in her future, Cathy stops by a dressmaker and orders an exact duplicate, drawn from memory, of the green velvet-and-chiffon dress her mother wore at Christmas in Foxworth Hall all those years ago. Likewise she ships Emma and Jory off to a Disney movie while she has her hair cut in the exact style their mother wore that night. I'm more shocked that Cathy dropped a pop culture reference. Hurray! Disney exists in Andrewsland!* Let's figure out what movie! Man, 1972** was a shitty year for Disney. The most likely candidate is Snowball Express, which was Disney's Christmas release and involved a man whose wealthy uncle dies and leaves him a hotel, which makes it kind of thematically apt. This is the biggest digression I have ever written. You're welcome.
Buoyed by her plan, she invites Chris to come Christmas shopping with her. Chris, of all the people in this carnival, shows some resolve, refusing to have anything to do with Cathy until she promises to leave Bart and their mother alone.
Christmas Eve arrives. On her way out the door, Cathy finds a heartbreaking letter from Henny. Henny--who refers to herself in third person for some reason--writes that she's old and sick and that while she's happy her two "doctor-sons" are at her side, she's sad because her "fairy-child" Cathy can't be with her.
Forgive your mother, even if once she did evil. Nobody all bad, and a lot of the good in her children must have come from her. When you can forget the past, peace and love will come again to you...And if you never in this world see Henny again, remember that Henny loved you well, as her own daughter, just as she loved your angel-sister.I love this letter. This shows better than all the telling the cost of Cathy's revenge. She is losing her last moments with a woman who really loves her to get some petty revenge. In this letter, the book actually seems to reflect on what its heroine is doing to herself and others, rather than trying one more time to justify her actions. For all her clumsy characterization--perhaps even because she's so firmly stuck in the background of all this--Henny comes off as the most genuine character going.
Cathy, of course, can't do it.
I put the note down with a heavy feeling of sadness in my chest, then shrugged my shoulders. What had to be done would be done. A long time ago I'd set my path, and I'd follow it, come what may.Cathy Dollanganger, you cold-hearted fatalistic bitch.
Cathy drives to Foxworth Hall. Again, she uses the little wooden key to slip in through a side door, which means they still haven't changed the locks. She's been praying to whatever horrible vengeful gods she worships that her mother would not also being wearing green tonight, because there's nothing more embarrassing than wearing the same dress as your rival at a vengeance party. Her prayers are answered: she catches a glimpse of her mother wearing a crimson lamé that rises to a high choker collar in front and is cut low enough in back that "a hint of her buttock cleavage showed." Flaunt it if you got it, Corinne!
Cathy sneaks up to her mother's room. "Oh golly-lolly!" The room's been slightly redecorated but the swan bed is still the same and I'm betting it's not a fucking lousy cheap-ass backlit swan headboard, Lifetime.
|Really, Lifetime? Really?|
She creeps upstairs to their attic room. Nothing has changed since the morning they escaped. Even the dollhouse is still in place, all the dolls just as Carrie left them. Cathy peeks inside and is stunned to see that the missing cradle has magically reappeared.
Funny you should bring that up just now, Cathy.
Way back in the Boarding School from Hell chapter, we were told that Carrie's dollhouse dolls have a miniature crib, but not a cradle, because back at Foxworth Hall, the dollhouse cradle mysteriously went missing. It was kind of a big deal at the time, since it was implied the grandmother took it so that she would have an excuse to punish the twins.
The problem with this is that we were never actually told that the cradle went missing. The first and only time Flowers in the Attic mentions the missing cradle is a scene wherein Carrie says that Chris replaced the cradle with a cardboard one. It is a single sentence with absolutely no importance attached to it. No trace of fear. No weight of potential punishment. It was only in the second book, and in particular, this scene, that any significance was given to the missing cradle.
There is a larger point to this, I swear.
The Case of the Missing Cradle is not the only time when something happens off-screen, as it were, that turns out to have greater significance, that we are not told about. I'm not talking about a plot point so subtle a casual reader might miss it or one that might require more than a few seconds' reflection. I'm talking something that didn't get mentioned, period.
I can think of four reasons why this happens:
- The scene existed in the draft, but was edited out by mistake and no one noticed.
- Andrews thought of this scene much later, then tried to gloss over the fact that she didn't include it earlier by pretending she had.
- Andrews intended to include the scene, but forgot to write it. I've said before that Andrews seems to be a very unconscious writer; perhaps the scene was so strongly fixed in her imagination that she didn't realize she never actually wrote it down.
- Andrews wanted the scene to be a big reveal and deliberately avoided including the scene so that it would be more "shocking" when she whipped it out apropos of nothing.
Again: remember this, because it's about to come back to haunt us.
Cathy lights a candle and climbs the attic stairs. Again, she is stunned that nothing has changed: the paper flowers are still hanging, Carrie's worm and Cory's snail are still there, all Cathy's old ballet costumes are mouldering on their hooks where she left them. In the old schoolroom, she finds the message she left for the future, never suspecting that the next person to read it would be her:
WE LIVED IN THE ATTIC
CHRISTOPHER, CORY, CARRIE, AND ME
NOW THERE ARE ONLY THREE
Suddenly a wind gusts through the attic from the snowstorm outside. "With the storm came the drafts to blow out my candle!" She panics and runs downstairs.
On the same balcony from which she and Chris watch that long-ago Christmas party, Cathy waits for the stroke of midnight. People look up, expecting Santa Claus to arrive, as Cathy descends the stairs and shouts, "Merry Christmas!"
"I'd like to introduce myself. I am Catherine Leigh Foxworth, the firstborn daughter of Mrs. Bartholemew Winslow, whom most of you remember was first married to my father, Christopher Foxworth....What's more, I have an older brother, named Christopher, too...Once I had a younger brother and sister, twins seven years younger than I, but Cory and Carrie are dead now, for they were--"
Meanwhile the guests are all like
Bart jumps in to stop her. He introduces her to the guests as Catherine Dahl, ballerina and actress, and tries to pass her off as a Christmas prank he's pulling on his wife. Nobody buys it.
Bart demands to know what the hell kind of stunt she's pulling. Cathy repeats that she is his wife's daughter--how else would she have known about this dress? How else would she have known the combination to get the jewels? How else would she have known that Bart's secret sex manual in the bedside table?
Bart, who's having the worst Christmas ever, drags both women into the library for a come-to-Jesus meeting. The grandmother, confined to her wheelchair, is also waiting in the library. Bart orders all the servants out, then demands that someone around here best start telling the truth or it's rapin' time.
Cathy produces the four children's birth certificates and hands them over to Bart for proof. All the while she taunts her mother, calling her a murderess, blaming her rejection for Carrie's suicide, while simultaneously telling Bart the full story, arsenic and all.
Bart finally tells Corinne that if she ever loved him, she will tell him if she is Cathy's mother. After a pause, Corinne confesses that she is.
In the silence that follows, Cathy has only one more question. What did Corinne do with Cory's body?
Corinne shrinks a little, before admitting that Cory died before they reached the hospital. In a panic, she threw his body into a ravine and covered it with dead leaves.
Cathy, too, goes quiet. "No, Momma," she says. "You didn't do that."
"I visited the end room of the northern wing before I came down here." I paused for better effect and made my next words more dramatic. Before I came down the stairs to confront you, I first used the stairs that lead directly to the attic, then the hidden little stairway in the closet of our prison. Chris and I always suspected there was another way into the attic, and correctly we reasoned there had to be a door hidden behind the giant heavy armoires we couldn't shove out of the way no matter how hard we pushed. Momma . . . I found a small room we'd never seen before. There was a peculiar odor in that room, like something dead and rotten." [Bolding mine]I'm sorry, Cathy. No you didn't. That never happened. We were just with you on your trip to the attic. You went up the closet stairs; you lit a candle; you saw the titular flowers in the attic; you went into the schoolroom and read your message on the blackboard; the wind starting blowing and you ran. At no time did we see you pushing aside any armoires and finding any secret hidden rooms with dead Corys in them.
The only possible explanation for not including the discovery of Cory's body is that Cathy is lying. This, at least, would be prime evidence for the "Cathy is an unreliable narrator" camp. It would certainly explain why Cathy turned the reveal into a deliberate production, complete with "paus[ing] for better effect."
Judging by Corinne's reaction, however, I don't believe that is the conclusion we're meant to reach. Corinne has denied the truth so far, so why would such a flagrant lie be the thing that pushed her over the edge? Furthermore, her reaction, which we shall soon see, hints that Cathy really was telling the truth.
Corinne seems to suffer a psychotic break.
Her expression went totally blank. She stared at me with vacant eyes and then her mouth and her hands began to work, but she couldn't speak...Bart started to say something, but she put her hands up to her ears to shut out anything anyone would say.In the midst of this hullabaloo, Chris arrives to retrieve Cathy. He has his own moment of grim satisfaction over the grandmother: "Merry Christmas, Grandmother. I had hoped never to see you again, but now that I have I see that time has worked its own revenge" which is about a million times more classy and effective than anything Cathy did in that Crowning Moment of Batshit. When you've been out-classed by Chris Dollanganger, the man who regularly tries to make out with his own sister, you need to reevaluate your whole life.
Corinne mistakes Chris for the spectre of her late husband and begs him to forgive her: "Chris, don't look at me like that! You know I wouldn't ever kill our children!" She suddenly turns and bolts, screaming, out of the room.
Chris confirms to Bart that he is Corinne's son, and that she was also the mother of Carrie and Cory, before begging Cathy to leave with him. There's been an emergency; Jory and Emma are waiting in the car. This is perhaps the one time Chris does not want Cathy to run away with him for some creepy sexual purpose, and she ignores him.
Screams come from the ballroom outside. Cathy smells smoke. Bart, realizing the house is on fire, runs to find Corinne. The guests stampeded the main door, but Chris leads Cathy to safety through a side door. On the lawn, Cathy waits in dread, but Bart doesn't emerge from the burning house.
Bart finally appears on the front steps, just as Corinne, who has also made it out, screams that her paralyzed mother is still trapped inside. Bart turns back to rescue her. POSSIBLY SO THAT HE CAN RAPE HER. I'm sorry, I'm sorry; I still can't get over that.
Corinne turns on her daughter, screaming that Cathy betrayed her, and that now, because of Cathy, Bart will die. Chris yet again takes charge.
"No, Mother. It wasn't Cathy who cried out to remind your husband your mother was still inside. You did that. You must have seen he couldn't go back in that house and live. Perhaps you would rather see your husband dead than married to your daughter."This realization finally stops Corinne. As Cathy and Chris watch, "some minute thing that had lent clarity and intelligence to her eyes dissolved." She begins babbling to Chris, mistaking him for the child he was in the attic. "Christopher, my son, my love...Don't you love me anymore?...[My father] will die any day, any hour, any second, I know! I swear you won't have to be up here much longer!" until at last the ambulance drivers take her away in a straitjacket.
And you know what? I'm good with that. That's an appropriate fate for her. Let her spend the rest of her life trying to make amends to ghost-children.
Cathy stays until the fire is completely out. In the ruins, she finds a few shreds of their paper flowers from the attic, which I'm totally not buying. I stopped forgiving this book for minor indiscretions around the same time it told me to fuck off. Enough time has passed for the ashes to grow cold, so . . . how long has Cathy been here? Like, a day?
Bart's body is found in the library, along with the grandmother's. The officials say that the fire originated in the attic room at the top of the stairs. Returning to my earlier theory--that Cathy was telling the truth about finding Cory in the attic--we could assume that Corinne went into the attic and set the fire to destroy the body.
There is an alternate interpretation, and forgive me for continuing to go both ways about this, but considering this is still an issue of confusion for readers--myself included--I want to address everything while it's in front of us: the language the book uses makes it uncertain if Cathy's candle was actually extinguished when she left the attic. In that scene Cathy states that "with the storm came the drafts to blow out [her] candle." "To" in this statement could be interpreted as "with the intention of," rather than "as the cause of" her candle blowing out.
This sentence is another example of Andrews' wonderful wonky syntax and could be read either way. If "to" is "intention," the candle was not blown out, and Cathy left a lighted candle in the attic. If "to" is "cause," Cathy ran when the candle blew out.
Long story short: if Cathy was lying about finding Cory, she set the fire by accident. If Cathy wasn't lying, Corinne set the fire on purpose to destroy Cory's body.
Fuck it. It was gremlins. Gremlins started the fire.
Only after the fire is "last wisp of smoke [is] blown away" does Chris bother to mention that the reason he came to get Cathy was because Henny died of a fucking stroke. In trying to save her, Paul had a heart attack.
CATHY DOLLANGANGER, YOU ARE THE WORST.
What with one thing and another, three years pass. Cathy has married Dr. Paul and given birth to Bart’s son (also named Bart). They haven’t had sex since they were married—Cathy and Paul, I mean, not Cathy and Baby Bart, because in Andrewsland, you have to clarify these matters—but it no longer matters because she loves Paul, who is now an invalid after four heart attacks.
But Paul feels he is being unfair to Cathy and compares their current situation to that of Cathy waiting for Granddaddy Warbucks to die before she could be set free of the attic. I totally agree, except for the part where she chose to be here of her own free will. Oh, and the part where she’s free to come and go as she pleases. And the part where she’s not being beaten, starved, raped, or poisoned. But other than that? Devoting yourself to a loved one in the sundown of his life is exactly like being locked in an attic.
Anyway, Paul wants Cathy to go ahead and marry her brother. His logic? “Chris has waited for so long.” Um. Chris can wait until Hell sells Slurpies but he is never going to stop being her brother. There’s no statute of limitations on siblings. Maybe the problem isn’t that Cathy keeps pushing him away; maybe the problem is that Chris needs to put on his big-boy britches and get the fuck over it.
Shortly thereafter, Paul dies. It is actually a nice death: he falls asleep on the front porch, in his white wooden chair, and never wakes up. Once again, Cathy and Chris are orphaned.
Reader, she marries him.
Cathy and Chris move to California, where no one knows them (except for Emma, since, as previously stated, they can never fire that woman now). Cathy is unable to have any more children after Little Bart, so at least we found one place that Andrews refuses to go. Three generations of incest is just excessive.
Mommie Dearest, utterly insane, sits in a mental institution back East, where she has attempted to claw her own face off to destroy any resemblance to her daughter. The grandfather’s codicil held true, and she lost all her millions after it was revealed she had children by her first marriage. However, in a bit of irony that does not escape even the generally oblivious Cathy, the fortune then reverted to the grandmother, who, upon her death, willed it all back to her daughter again, no strings attached. If only Mommy Dearest had considered poisoning the Trunchbull all those years ago, she night have kept all the loot, her new husband, and her children’s love, and we wouldn’t have another three novels to sit through.
But Cathy dreads the day when the world finds out her secrets, and fears what this discovery and the subsequent publicity will do to her two sons, in spite of the fact that she has by this point supposedly written two very incriminating books about it.
More disturbingly, she finds that somehow, in a trancelike state, she got into her car, drove to the nearest Ikea, selected a pair of twin beds, waited in a checkout line, pulled out her credit card, bought the beds, drove back home, brought them upstairs, and assembled them in the attic. Unconsciously! She also bought a picnic basket exactly like the one the Trunchbull used. All this would be ominous indeed if anyone bothered to follow through with it in the next book.***
I have a lot of questions.
First....WHERE WAS THE EDITOR?
I realize I gave Andrews a remarkable amount of flack for this book, but there's only so much for which she can be blamed. A lot of the problems I found could have been solved by an editor--not just the enormous plothole at the end, but the pacing, the characterization, the repetitive scenes, and the overall internal inconsistency. This is a massive, sprawling, disorganized book that could have improved vastly from some tightening up, and I believe Andrews was done a major disservice. No mainstream publisher today would have touched this hot mess.
I honestly believe that publishers took the success of Flowers to be a one-trick pony and that they pushed Andrews into producing a sequel for which she was not prepared and which suffered from lack of editing in order to ride what they probably felt was a short-lived wave. In books after this one, a lot of these technical problems disappear and quality control creeps in: Andrews' signature stylistic quirks are still there, but the stories themselves are tighter and more contained, and the pacing improves vastly.
My primary frustration with this books that plenty of things happen, but there are few consequences. Very little happens that has any bearing on the rest of the book. Cathy achieves her dream of becoming a ballerina...but to what end? Ultimately it has no impact on how the story ends, except for the very minor one of letting her mother knows she still exists. The entire Paul romance only served to delay Cathy and Chris's inevitable hook-up and stretch the tension a bit longer. Other than getting a few babies out of the bargain, Cathy had very little growth as a character. Neither did anyone else. The only person to grow as a character is Carrie, shortly before the book axed her. And I am not going to make a joke about Carrie and growth because I am better than that.
In a lot of aspects, particularly scope and Byzantine characterization, you can tell Andrews was a huge reader of Charles Dickens. She even namedrops him in the first pages of Flowers. Unfortunately, she had neither Dickens's skill nor the benefit of an infinitely patient Victorian audience. She tries to cover huge sweeps of time, but it gets away from her.
She also has what seems to be a fear of character development. Andrews is one of those authors who seems to take her characters very personally. Character growth requires an acknowledgement that the characters are less than perfect, that they have room to change, and Andrews does not seem to want to take that step. Instead she places perfect characters in less-than-perfect situations and then blames the situation for any imperfections in the character. It's like those people who believe that every aspect of their lives will improve if only they can lose these last fifteen pounds.
Her love of Gothic themes also trips her up: Andrews writes very intimate books, where the meat of the story is how characters work to thwart one another. These kinds of stories do not lend themselves to play out over the course of years, or else we end up with the sort of story this became: characters who have the same conversations and struggle against the same issues, over and over, at the expense of whatever plot may be.
Is it a good book? No way.
It is a batshit awesome book? Oh yes.
After this post, the Blog-O-Rama will be taking a month-long hiatus while I regroup, recover, and prepare for the next book in the Dollanganger Saga, If There Be Thorns. With the long-running Cathy/Chris drama finally wrapped up, what surprises will Andrews have in store?
*Well, we kind of knew that with Mickey....
**Cathy says she's fifteen in November of 1960. She's twenty-seven at the Christmas party, so it's 1972.
***SPOILERS: They don't.