Flowers in the Attic – Beloved Trash!

[Note: I’m still trawling through Life magazines, so if you want to see more of that, never fear, it is on its way!]

V.C. Andrews – a name you can still see today on covers of new novels, even though she’s been dead since the 1980s. She’s worth more since her decease then while she lived, which is why the estate continually puts out new stories and series.

It’s the first trashy fiction I ever read, so it holds a special, albeit slightly skewed, place in my heart.

My parents used to own a greeting card store, and like anywhere else, we had our regulars. Terri was one of them. She used to buy her Benson and Hedges cigarettes from us, and over time, she lent my mom and grandma books, namely Andrews and Danielle Steel (who I never read). I remember my mom reading Flowers during lulls in customers, and I was intrigued by the die-cut cover with the scared face of the girl in the garret window.

No one ever told me I couldn’t read these books, so I started in, and eventually read the whole Dollenganger series (which, by the way, is the only one penned entirely by Andrews before her demise). The last few required a library trip, leading a prune-faced librarian to stare at me over her spectacles and say, in an intonation to rival William Shatner, “This . . . is not . . . a  . . . children’s book.” My mom defended me, which is surprising, because I remember these books being so SMUTTY.

This was the long way ’round to say, curiosity has gotten the better of me, and I have to know, are they still as bad as I remember?

Join me!

The library sent me the 2004 edition, which has a cover similar to the one that I remember. The newest cover looks like a romance novel, which is messed up, considering certain events. If you’ve never read the book, it concerns the Dollanganger family: Corinne, the mother; Christopher, the father; Chris, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie, the children. They have a perfect and wonderful life, until tragedy strikes – the father is killed in a car accident while everyone is waiting to surprise him for his thirty-sixth birthday. Corinne is basically a trophy wife, so there’s no way to keep the house. She doesn’t know the value of money, really, as she grew up wealthy, so nothing in the house is paid off, either.

She writes to her rich parents and her mother agrees to let them come to the house. However, Corinne tells the children that they must hide away for a very short while; you see, she was disowned by her parents, as she ran away with her half-uncle. Her father adds to the mother’s note that he is glad that no “Devil’s issue” resulted from her incestuous union. Corinne is confident that she can win herself back into her father’s good graces quickly.

The family travels to Virginia and the grandmother, a forbidding, sneering type of woman, meets them at the back door and hustles them all the way up to the attic. The children are told by their mother that they’ll only have to stay up there one night. This stretches into two, then a week, and so on. Corinne pleads with them for patience. In the meantime, the children look beyond the tiny room they are imprisoned in, and find a door hidden in a closet that takes them to Narnia – I’m sorry, I mean, the attic. It’s huge and there is plenty of space to roam around it, but it is dusty and full of vermin.

When the children discover they will be locked up much longer than planned, they set about creating an indoor garden for the twins to play in. They clean up the attic, construct swings, and hang paper flowers to flutter in the breeze. Cathy, who is a dancer, continues her practice when her brother constructs a barre for her up there, as well.

The grandmother comes up daily with a picnic basket of food, and brings them a list of don’ts. Everything is a sin in her world; boys and girls should not look at each other. Be modest at all times. Et cetera.

Corinne brings them everything they ever could have wanted . . . except their freedom. Now the weeks have stretched into months, and now they are waiting for the grandfather to die. Cathy starts to believe they will never escape, but Chris has unshaken faith in their mother.

Cathy, as a budding young woman, wants to look at herself naked one day, and preens in front of the mirror in the bedroom. Chris catches her there and can’t stop looking. The grandmother comes in and catches them. Cathy’s hair gets tarred while she sleeps. The grandmother tells them that Cathy’s hair must be cut or none of them will eat for a week. They cut the front part and cover the rest of her hair with a scarf but then no one comes to check on them for a week. Corinne has stopped visiting as much, anyway, by this point. The children almost eat some dead mice and then finally comes a food basket.

Corinne disappears for a long while and finally returns to tell them that she has gotten married. No, she can’t tell him about them yet, so . . . sorry? The months drag on and on. The children end up living in the attic for three years. Around the time Corinne returns, a new thing arrives in the daily picnic basket – powdered sugar doughnuts. The twins go nuts over them.

The older children decide they need to get out and they steal Corinne’s key and make a copy of it. Chris begins to go out to forage for money in his mother’s bedroom. The kids start getting sick a little at a time. Chris is too sick to go out one night and Cathy goes in his stead. She finds her stepfather sitting in the bedroom, but he’s asleep. She goes up and kisses him. Chris finds out later and they argue, which leads to him raping his sister in the attic, and then he’s all, “Sorry, I raped you, but no one else can have you, because you’re mine.”

Cory, one of the twins, begins to get really sick, and Corinne supposedly takes him to the hospital, but he dies. The remaining three realize they can’t wait for their money to expand any more, they just need to leave. In a last foraging attempt, Chris leaves the room and is gone for hours. He returns and tells Cathy that their mother and stepfather have moved out of the house abruptly. He decides to go visit the grandfather and introduce himself, but finds the grandfather’s room is empty and has been for a very long time. As luck would have it, John Amos, the butler, and his chickie of the moment, decide to do it on the couch in the library, and he tells her all the gossip, which Chris hears from hiding behind it. The grandfather died over a year ago, and apparently, he knew about the kids. He wanted them trapped up there forever. He added a codicil to his will that if it was ever discovered that Corinne had children from her first marriage, she would disinherit everything; if she has children from her new marriage, she also loses everything. The picnic basket the maids see go up to the attic in the grandmother’s hands every day is to kill the mice in the attic – with arsenic. For it’s on the doughnuts, you see, and you wouldn’t taste it in the powdered sugar!

The three escape the next day and board the train, hoping to save what’s left of their lives.

The writing itself isn’t horribly bad; I’ve read worse and more repetitive things, like Fifty Shades, but it isn’t earth-shattering, either. There are creepy lines, and the family is always a Iittle too close, even before the scene with Chris and Cathy. Their father “warms [their] lips with his kisses.” Their mother walks around in “filmy negligees” in front of her teenaged son. Corinne, at 33, submits herself to be whipped by her mother for her diabolical sins, and then is made to expose her nakedness to her children as an object lesson.

When I was younger and read this the first time, I devoured it and would have given it more stars than I would today. I suppose it hooked me because it was illicit, especially for a child of nine or ten. And it’s still popular today. I had to wait two weeks for this to come from the library!

I read the others in the series, but I don’t remember them as much. Next up – Petals on the Wind!

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