Flowers In The Attic Readalong – Part The Second

Moar doughnuts, please.

Well. It’s come to this.

I did a bunch of reading on V.C. Andrews and whether Flowers in the Attic was inspired by real events, but let’s get real. We’re all here to discuss the incestuous love between Chris and Cathy, amirite?

“I could hear him breathing deeply my scent.”
“I could hear him breathing deeply my scent.”

Ahem. Sorry. At some point during Part II, I stopped highlighting in my Kindle and just gave myself over to the delicious trainwreck.

So…before I get into the rape ‘cest luv, can we talk about The Grandmother? Because I really kind of liked her by the end. Yes, she poisoned Corey totally inexplicably (seriously, does anyone understand any character’s motivation in this book?). Yes, she tried to cut off Cathy’s hair in a fit of rage, but really it just gave her and Chris a chance to hang out in the bathroom together. However, by the end I found myself kind of perversely attracted by her interesting advice about men (“Let them wait for you!”) and her bizarre wig-wearing ways (could the book possibly have been written for anyone but 12-year-olds? This detail is just the one a 12-year-old would look for and love).

Also, what is up with Bart whatshisname? I felt really unclear as to whether he actually saw Cathy while sleeping until I realized that she for some reason started making out with him. What is wrong with these people? Do attics just turn you into sex-crazed perverts, or did it have to do with wanting everything Momma had?

And also…did anyone else find the SUPPOSEDLY HUGE REVELATION about Momma’s intentions at the end really freaking confusing? If Momma didn’t want kids so much, why’d she leave them up there? Why didn’t she just give them the boot or kill them?

Okay, rapey brother sister love. I was surprised at how much naked hanging out preceded it, but even more surprised at how horrifying the actual scene was. I am also horrified at how it basically seemed like VC Andrews would way rather have put a tender sex scene in instead of a rapey one, but felt compelled to in order to barely escape any accusations of the book being even more horrible than it actually is. And Cathy’s denying it was rape? What in the HELL? What in the ever-loving hell.

Now that it’s been a few weeks since I finished reading it, I am even more confused about this book than I was at the beginning. On the one hand, I found it way more readable than I thought. On the other hand, I find myself looking for a point or moral or summary of the book. Is it that you’re basically screwed either way? Is it that you have to fight back soon or you will be left in the proverbial dust? Or is there no moral at all?

All in all, I’m really glad I gave this book a re-read. It provides strange insight into the child I was then and wow has it been fun to discuss with all of you.  (Who’s up for watching the movie?)

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  • Jesaka Long

    While reading Flowers in the Attic, I wondered WHY I had agreed to do this and then, damn it, when I was done, I found myself wondering what happened next. But I did cut myself off. Since that it’s been a while since finishing the book, I’m glad I read it because now I know what people are talking about when they mention it. Kind of like forcing myself to watch the horrible Twilight movies so I can talk about it with my 16-year-old niece. 

    The rape scene was horrible and I didn’t expect it. VC Andrews seemed to be building up to a mutual sex scene between Cathy and Chris, so why not go there? At one point, with all of the descriptions of Chris gazing at his mother’s breasts, I half-expected there to be some revelation of sex between them, too. The big “reveal” that the mother was poisoning them was interesting, but confusing, and it left me wondering why that was part of the book. Were we supposed to contemplate the value of money over children? What are children worth to mothers? You may have called it when you questioned if there was no moral at all here. 

    I can remember my grandmother reading this book, it sitting on her roll top desk in the kitchen. She’d sit at the table while she read and smoked, alternating between Harlequin romances and Louis L’Amour westerns. Now I wish I could ask her what she thought of this book! And, of course, I wonder what I would have thought of it had I read it when I was 12. 

    Thanks for the readalong, Erin. It’s been fun–and torture–but mostly fun. 

    • Erin Blakemore

      Oh, the torture. I really have to conclude that there is no moral. Only romance that turns into rape. Needs more chain-smoking.

    • Eleanor Brown

      I totally agree – all the signs for a consensual relationship were there, so it felt so strange that she didn’t go there. Maybe Erin was right, that VC (or her publishers) felt like mutual incestuous googly-eyes was okay, but actual intercourse would have been a bridge too far?

  • Wendy McClure

    Okay, two things:

    1.) Has anyone read Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers in the Atttic that’s all about The Grandmother? It’s actually…. kind of good. It was the first book written by VCA’s ghostwriters, and boy can you tell the difference, because compared to the original books, the pacing and narrative is so much tighter. It somehow manages to interpret all of VCA’s twisted themes about gender and sexuality in a pretty intelligent way, and you totally feel for The Grandmother in the end. After re-reading the whole damn series a couple years ago I’m not sure if I would recommending reading all the sequels (some definitely can be skimmed), but that last one is totally worth going back to.

    2.) That site is STUNNING. Every time I go there I get lost for hours. Do they still have the incredibly complicated family tree diagrams for every series?!

    • Erin Blakemore

      Dude. I guess I must now read GOS. And call it GOS because just thinking “Garden of Shadows” hurts my brain. Also, gives me life. They have everything, including but not limited to forums asking where to find V.C. Andrew’s first story (appropriately titled something like “I slept with my uncle on his wedding night”) and photos of the real kids used in the creepy covers.

      • Eleanor Brown

        Please read GOS and tell me about it, because I don’t think I can live for one more second in this universe.

    • Melanie Stringer

      I read GOS way back when it was published and remember thinking, too, that it was better than just about all of those which VC Andrews actually wrote herself.

      Call me crazy, but I understood The Grandmother on some level or another, and I understood WHY they called her “The Grandmother.” Probably has something to do with my own extremely judgmental and entirely-without-a-solitary-ion-of-sentimentality-for-her-flesh-and-blood-family “Grandmother.” Did I say that publicly? Oops.
      On another note, My Sweet Audrina was always my favorite of Andrews’ books. Not because it was anything other than horrifying. The psychological thriller aspect of two parents trying to convince themselves that they could reinvent their “tainted” child by convincing her that her living nightmare actually happened to the “other” Audrina, and not herself, was such a compelling mess of conspiracy and moral outrage that I developed a morbid fascination with the story and its implications. I once used it as an example in my Psychology and Literature class to compare with elements of some of the texts we studied (The Kite Runner and Equus come to mind) and found that nearly every woman and some of the men in class had, indeed, read their VC Andrews. Hmmmm.

  • Shae

    Sometimes I get all worked up about teenaged girls liking Twilight and what horrible ideas of a romantic relationship it gives them.  Then remember I loved this book and didn’t grow up to be raped by and subsequently marry my brother and I feel better.

    • Erin Blakemore

      See? There are upsides to every story…

    • Eleanor Brown

      I had no recollection that it was rape. None whatsoever. I also remember there being way more sex. I think I’m going to have to go to a lot of therapy.

  • Amy

    Still shaking my head at the fact that Andrews dedicated this book to her mother.

    • Erin Blakemore

      Now, now. It’s the ultimate gift.

    • Eleanor Brown

      Hahahahaha! I didn’t even notice that. Oh, such win.

  • Laura M.

    Well, according to the Grandma, we are all sex-perverts, we just need to be given the opportunity to express our true selves. Like I said in my review, I think this book would have made an amazing John Waters movie, with Divine playing the Grandma (and why is she always referred to as “the Grandma”?), just that scene alone of Cathy fuming on the rooftop in her tutu, I almost started crying it was so funny… As for a moral, um… no I can’t find one either.

    • Erin Blakemore

      I forgot about that part! All parts with tutus were amazing. I liked the part where she danced until she dropped into a pile of tutu.

      • Wendy McClure

        Among the few high points in the bland misery of the next three books are the insane ballet scenes where every other performance had a horrifying injury or miscarriage. Also, Cathy starts doing this thing where she angrily pirouettes and slaps people all the time. It’s beautiful.

        • Erin Blakemore

          This could very well push me over the edge and force me to read the rest of the books.

  • molly

    So yeah, THIS BOOK. I devoured it in about two days, and was pretty surprised by a few things (never read it as a kid). I knew there was incest, I knew there was some weird religious craziness, but oh man, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC did not fail to deliver on total batshit insanity. Nicely done, V.C., nicely done.

    I, too, was surprised by the rapey nature of the big sex scene after the “let’s run away and go lie amongst the fireflies by the scenic lake” romance set-up. I expected, I dunno, a vibe more like all the “We’re just like Momma and Daddy!” weirdness surrounding the twins. Or something.
    It’s strange … I hated every single character, didn’t find the plot believable, considered the writing terrible in every way, and questioned the pacing. And yet I totally enjoyed reading it. It cast a spell on me. I don’t think I’ll be running out to pick up any more of Andrews’ books, but I’m glad I finally read this.
    Big ups go to Mom’s book of pornography, Grandma’s coup d’etar (see what I did there?), the arsenic in the doughnuts, Mom refusing to buy Cathy a bra, and basically everything else I guess.
    Is the movie worth watching?

    • Erin Blakemore

      Okay, I’m so glad you read this. It really is batshit, yet endearing and weirdly readable. I’m surprised to also be able to say that it left a spell on me! A creepy, rapey, donut-y spell.

  • Eleanor Brown

    I am still kind of recovering from the collision of my memories of this book and the actual book. I don’t recall devouring this entire series – I think I probably read whichever books my sisters owned, but I do remember reading at least FITA more than once.

    So it’s totally shocking to me that my recollection of this book is that it is absolutely filled with sex (not true, though my frame of reference at 38 is slightly different than at 12) and that the incest was all romantic and consensual (I’m willing to stipulate that might happen in a later book).

    Given that this book is now seemingly being marketed as a romance (apparently by people who heard about the book thirdhand, while underwater), I find the playout of their relationship even more distressing. I seem to have absorbed a lot of that anyway, what would it be like as a 12-year old to have romance, rather than horror set up as an expectation?

    Next topic getting its own comment.

    • Erin Blakemore

      Our experiences are really similar. Which begs the question…WTF was up with us to have remembered the book as romantic incest when in fact it is rapey incest?! Has time blissfully blotted out our trauma, or did we shape it into something more romantic than it was? *shudder*

      • Melanie Stringer

        Ellen, Erin: AGREED.

    • Ellen F. Brown

      I think I read at least the next two books. (Was one called Petals in the Wind maybe?) The second one is where I learned what a D&C was. Anytime I hear of somebody getting that procedure I think of poor Cathy. I have such a terrible memory I can barely remember my own name, but I can remember that. Drat that VC Andrews for taking up my memory space.

  • Eleanor Brown

    It took me 150 pages to get into part I (I had to stop resisting the bad writing). Then I put the book down until this 2nd discussion, and found it impossible to get back into. The bad writing seemed even more painful, as someone else mentioned, the pacing is nightmarish, and the issue of believability just got ridiculous. WHY DID THEY NOT ESCAPE SOONER?

    You could claim Stockholm Syndrome, but they start hating their mother fairly early on. If Chris and Cathy had been younger, they might have felt powerless, but as they grow up, it’s obvious that they don’t feel powerless, given the way they stand up to The Grandmother and their mother. It just seemed silly, especially when they started climbing out the window and rooting around in their mother’s bedroom.

    Here’s another believability issue: Grandma drugs Cathy while she puts the tar in her hair, but Chris, Cory, and Carrie are all in the same room, and they don’t wake up from the smell?

    And we hear at the end that the servants are suspicious, and none of them ever followed up? Puh-leez.

    • Erin Blakemore

      I think they bought into Momma’s fantasy. Her frowsy, big-bazongaed fantasy, apparently. I’m not saying it makes sense, but this is really the only explanation I can fathom.

  • Eleanor Brown

    And here’s my last comment – I feel like the book really was headed in some kind of moral direction at first, and then it just fell apart. I agree that I don’t think there is a moral. The grandmother is kind of forgiven when Chris observes her prayer that everything she did she did because she thought it was right (whatever, Nuremburg). The mother is revealed as selfish, but she also struck me as kind of childlike, and I didn’t really have any lesson to take from her other than, “Don’t lock your kids in an attic and pretend they don’t exist.” And the incest part was totally overwhelmed for me by the rape issue.

    So basically this is a book with no moral center. I think if I’m going to read something that awful, I at least want it to be thought-provoking. Mostly my thoughts are, “How did I so terribly mis-read this at the age of 12?”

    • Erin Blakemore

      WRONG. The lesson of this book is clearly “don’t be born into the Dollenganger family…they are EFFED UP.”

    • Ellen F. Brown

      That same question went through my mind over and over again. I was semi-ashamed of my 12 year old self. But looking at it with a positive spin – rereading this was a nice sign that I have progressed intellectually since my preteen years. (There are days I have my doubts.)

  • Ellen F. Brown

    Sorry I’m so late joining the discussion but I couldn’t resist throwing my two cents in.

    On a petty level, I was flabergasted by the architectural and geographical inaccuracies of FITA. Of course, I never noticed them as a kid — was too anxious to get to the randy bits — but it’s just silly how she describes the house and the surrounding area. As a fellow Virginian, I respectfully submit that VC dropped the ball there. My real complaint though is the characters. Yeck! Gag! Awful! I couldn’t stand any of them. Reminded me of a certain modern day smutty bestseller! [I apologize for the over use of exclamation points here, but this book calls for a lot of extreme punctuation!!!]
    That said, FITA was so much fun to re-read. I couldn’t put the darn thing down. The perfect way to kill a lazy summer Saturday. Erin, you are a genius for getting this going. Now, I want to go back and re-read Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? ( I wonder if the modern version has her still fiddling with those darn belts.)

    • Erin Blakemore

      Don’t worry. Your intense punctuation is welcome here.

      I totally forgot it was supposed to be set in Virginia. What in the HELL.

      Also, I believe that Margaret has been updated, which to me takes out all of the joy of learning about HOLY CRAP YOU USED BELTS!??!?! and appreciating the hard times our mothers endured.

      • Melanie Stringer

        Um, really? Updated? Margaret? BLASPHEMY. That is tragic, indeed. As an historian who specializes in cultural heritage and social norms…”What in the HELL” doesn’t begin to express my displeasure. It is classic novels such as these which help modern students to understand the mundane details of years gone by. Margaret didn’t have a cell phone, she had to either wait by the only phone in the house or risk missing a call. No texting, no IM, no facebook, no email. She carried real books and wrote with real pens and pencils at school. And shopping for feminine supplies really WAS embarrassing because girls weren’t supposed to acknowledge such aspects of life in public. I already shudder to think how difficult it may become in the near future to peruse the manuscripts of a favorite writer due to our modern propensity to lock down everything with passwords. Studying the process a particular author used will be a much different task than it has been up until now…when a person dies, perhaps all of their unpublished work will vanish with them, because the password is unknown and unrecoverable.

        Or not. What with minute-by-minute twitter feeds and all…

  • ChrisandCathy

    It’s so weird to go on this forum and read all of the trash talk about this book despite the fact that people are following up by saying they still read it in all of its weirdness. Call me a freak, or perverted or sick. I don’t mean to be, and I’d NEVER in ten thousand years ever love my brother THAT way; but Cathy and Chris’s relationship was so perfect to me, and I wanted their happy ending. I felt for them. I thought the book was beautifully written as well! I loved it. And wonder why others found it dumb :(
    Oh well.

    • Erin Blakemore

      No offense intended! I loved reading the book, too.