Unlike many others in my high school, I didn’t read Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger) then. It had a black cover with scary zombie children, and I was under the impression that it was horror about vampires. Much later I learned that it was actually about incestuous children in an attic. I have now read it, and believe that I have discovered the source of fandom’s incest obsession, at least that incest-happy section of fandom which is American and read the book in their formative years.

This is a great book to read on a plane, especially when you can poke your seatmate and read bits aloud. In the first chapter, titled “Goodbye, Daddy,” a highway patrolman comes to the house of the lovely Momma and her four children, Chris, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory. His explanation of what happened is a typical example of how Andrews fulfills expectations (Dad was squashed on the highway) and then takes them not just one, but at least two steps further into feverish melodrama than one expects:

”According to the accounts, which we’ve recorded, there was a motorist driving a blue Ford weaving in and out of the lefthand lane, apparently drunk, and he crashed head-on into your husband’s car. But it seems your husband must have seen the accident coming, for he swerved to avoid a head-on collision, but a piece of machinery had fallen from another car, or truck, and this kept him from completing his defensive driving maneuver, which would have saved his life. But as it was, your husband’s much heavier car turned over several times, and still he might have survived, but an oncoming truck, unable to stop, crashed into his car, and again the Cadillac spun over… and then… it caught on fire.”

As if those THREE accidents weren’t enough, the cop then produces the charred stuffed animals Daddy had purchased for his kids, which he had been driving home to deliver but which ended up strewn across the highway of death!

Momma then whisks her kids away to the ominous house of her parents, who hate her. I had thought the mention, early on, that Momma and Daddy looked like brother and sister was foreshadowing for the upcoming incest. No! It was foreshadowing for the revelation that Momma and Daddy were, in fact, related. He was her half-uncle! So her mother hates her and her incestuous spawn, and Momma and grandmother lock all four kids in the attic until Momma can find the right moment to tell her ailing father about them. Or for the aging father to will her tons of money and die.

Three years of increasingly melodramatic child abuse in the attic ensues. The grandmother spots Chris seeing Cathy naked and tries to hack off her hair. Then she sneaks in, injects Cathy with a sedative, and pours tar over her head. Chris pees into the bathtub to de-tar Cathy’s hair, and it comes out silver and more beautiful than ever. Grandmother doesn’t feed them for a week, and Chris cuts his wrist with a penknife and feeds the others on his own blood!

Momma re-marries and STILL doesn’t let them out of the attic. Chris and Cathy angst and lust over each other. Cathy sneaks out and beholds Momma’s bed, which is shaped like a swan.

And then came the most melodramatic twist yet!

Cory dies horribly – and it turns out that Momma poisoned him with arsenic disguised as powdered sugar on doughnuts! Her father already died and left her all his money, so she wants to get rid of all her children of incestuous shame. The survivors flee. The end. Except for four sequels.

Truly awesomely bad, and also great plane reading if you like that sort of thing. I want to pass it on to Kaori Yuki for a manga adaptation. She would probably add zombies.
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ext_12542: My default bat icon (Default)

From: [identity profile] batwrangler.livejournal.com

Oh. My. Goodness.

(I remember seeing this in bookstores, but apparently missed the fervor over it and have never read it.)
ext_1310: (squicked)

From: [identity profile] musesfool.livejournal.com

I totally trace my preference for fictional hetcest to reading Flowers in the Attic at the age of 9.

From: [identity profile] veejane.livejournal.com

1. I knew about the poisoned doughnuts, because I have seen the tail end of the 1970s movie version. (I have never read the book.)

1A. The only reason I know there are sequels is that one time, a couple years ago, [livejournal.com profile] snacky sat me down in a B&N and told me in detail the plots of the remaining books. They sounded hilariously terrible.

2. If you have never read a V. C. Andrews novel, you will find that they are all alike. Actually, that's literally true, because she died very early on in her franchise, so the succeeding authors did not have a lot of pointers as to what her audience liked so much. I read just enough of them in highschool to discover the following important axioms:
* The heroine will always have a ridiculous name, usually a noun.
* There are always strange and wealthy relatives waiting in the wings.
* The heroine will be sexually menaced by someone genetically related to her, but whom she does not know at all.
* The heroine will fall in love with, and traipse happily into the sunset with, someone to whom she in not genetically related, a fact often discovered halfway through the novel, although she's always regarded him as a brother and in fact it's possible he changed her diapers. But somehow that stops mattering as soon as they discover they share no genes.

It was upon discerning that last that I said, "V. C. Andrews, you [or your ghost-writers, or indeed the whole audience] need therapy!" and when a 14 y.o. girl can tell you that, you know it is pretty bad.

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From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com - Date: 2009-12-30 02:44 am (UTC) - Expand

Netflix has it

From: [identity profile] amberley.livejournal.com - Date: 2009-12-30 01:21 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: Netflix has it

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com - Date: 2009-12-30 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] catecumen.livejournal.com

Truly awesomely bad, and surprisingly influential. Interestingly enough, I was just reminded of it by reading a Yuletide story (http://archiveofourown.org/works/34381) which tried to "fix" it with a crossover from Madeleine L'Engle's Murry family.

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From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com

I read it pretty young and somehow thought it was based on a true story. Your description here makes it sound creepier than I remember, though of course it came back to me quickly. I had forgotten about the tar, and the urination, and the blood. I think maybe it made me a little (more?) paranoid about the motives of adults/others rather than brought me to any kind of attachment to incest.

From: [identity profile] laurashapiro.livejournal.com

I remember these with startling clarity considering I only read them once, and that when I was twelve. They are amazingly mind-warping for young readers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you're right that they're the reason incest is the new black in fandom.

Frankly, most of the 'cesty pairings I've seen floating around fandom are WAY less angsty than V. C. Andrews' books.

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com

I read the whole series, and it all came back aside from feeding the kids his own blood.

And more believable!
ext_7850: by ev_vy (Default)

From: [identity profile] giandujakiss.livejournal.com

Man, those books were brilliant. I love Chris feeding the kids his blood.

The movie totally ruined everything.

I distinctly remember when I stayed up all night to finish Flowers. And then, of course, the book got increasingly tattered because I carried it with me everywhere and reread it multiple times.

Those were the days.
Edited Date: 2009-12-30 01:08 am (UTC)

From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com

I want to pass it on to Kaori Yuki for a manga adaptation. She would probably add zombies.

And angsty, possibly over-sexed angels and demons. And Important Scars. And body parts in jars.
ext_6428: (Default)

From: [identity profile] coffeeandink.livejournal.com

I found them horrifying, but so much less horrifying than My Sweet Audrina, in which the heroine has been traumatized by the repressed memory of a childhood gang rape about which a well-meaning adult made her feel horribly guilty by bathing her afterwards and convincing her she was unclean! I think. This is not mentioned in the Amazon reviews.

When I was ten, I read a copy that belonged to one of my mother's friends when she was playing mahjong with them by the pool and I was deeply bored. It was my first V.C. Andrews! And yet I did not stop there.

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From: [identity profile] wintersweet.livejournal.com

I dodged these because I was the only one of my 6th-grade through high school friends who wasn't into horror of any type, although I did babysit them in my garage for a while when a friend had them banned from her house. I flipped through them just enough to catch on that they had incest, which completely freaks me out, and never touched them again. D: And you know, as it turns out, I'm okay with that! I still can't quite believe they were so widely read by so many kids.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

I remember seeing these books, too, as a kid, with their cut-out covers and strange looking children. There were always more and more of them.

I was fascinated by the ways paperback covers were manipulated. Embossing. Pseudo gold leaf. Cut-outs.

... I wasn't ever tempted to read the books, though.

From: [identity profile] yhlee.livejournal.com

I read an unbelievable number of V.C. Andrews novels books when I was in middle school, although I seem to recall that I didn't twig to the fact that My Sweet Audrina concerned the aftermath of rape. (I was exceptionally slow.)

From: [identity profile] sophia-helix.livejournal.com

Ugh, I just read that book for the first time myself last summer, in a creepy deserted Victorian guesthouse out in the middle of the mountainous California gold country. Great setting, still an awful book -- the prose alone! The snippet you quoted has that same sentence construction ("But blah blah blah, for blah blah blah had happened...") that Andrews uses over and over again.

From: [identity profile] mercwriter.livejournal.com

It had the word "flowers" in the title, so I never bothered to pick it up and read when I was a kid (I was glued in the SF/F of the library) because I assumed it was a romance. o.O

Actually, I think I've read more _about_ it to feel like I've read it, even if I haven't.

I like your point about this being where the incest infatuation in fanfic started--it makes sense to me. ;)
seajules: (DOOM!)

From: [personal profile] seajules

I've seen part of the movie (another classic vehicle starring Kristy Swanson), but never read the books. There's something about being related to half your hometown that makes one a little leery of incest*. I have to say, sounds like the movie might have cut out some of the more awesome plot elements. And by awesome, I mean totally cracktastic.

*The exception seems to be siblingcest with no chance whatsoever of pregnancy, particularly twincest.

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com

Hahaha, this is a fantastic review. I read this fairly young, though the pee-on-a-tarred-head part. I did imprint pretty heavily on the feed-on-his-blood!

I skipped the middle two sequels and read the fourth book, which I can promise features a little boy a genetic disorder who can't feel pain, and a creepy old lady. And incest, like all V. C. Andrews books.

From: [identity profile] chickflick1979.livejournal.com

Dude, Louise Fletcher was effing scary in that movie version. I had nightmares for years after that.

I read all of the VC Andrews books in middle school as well, and yes, they are all the same. The four sequels to Flowers get increasingly ridiculous.

Dawn was my favorite one though, because she could sing. I also really liked Heaven, because she was a hillbilly and her Daddy made moonshine, which I always found hilariously awesome.

From: [identity profile] movingfinger.livejournal.com

Wow, I remember copies of this being around and I am sure I never read it.

Has this title been mentioned in discussions of modern fairytale reworkings, because it certainly belongs there?
ext_150: (Default)

From: [identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com

LOL! It's not all sequels, one of them is a prequel which is about the grandma and how the whole fucked-up saga began. The prequels that Explain Everything were always my favorite parts of VC Andrews series.

From: [identity profile] erinlin.livejournal.com

I remember that book! Awesomely trashy and hilarious.

From: [identity profile] jeremytblack.livejournal.com

I'm laughing. I had forgotten all of this. I just "had" to read this when I was a kid because everybody was reading it. And since the taste-makers (my two older sisters) liked it, I "did," too. At least I convinced myself I did.

Reflecting now from your description, the scary part is how accepting I was of all of these events. Everything seemed plausible at the time.

From: [identity profile] troubleinchina.livejournal.com

What, no one's yet spoiled you for the fact that - gasp - Momma and Daddy weren't Niece & Uncle, but actually half-siblings? The over-the-top prequel Explains Everything.

From: [identity profile] lurker-lost.livejournal.com

I remember this book SWEEPING MY SCHOOL. In fact, it swept the school exactly the same way Twilight did, almost a year later. >_>
... I remember running around asking people if they thought it was good, and what was it about, etc XDDD
Why yes, I did go to a girls school...
ext_6283: Brush the wandering hedgehog by the fire (Default)

From: [identity profile] oursin.livejournal.com

I think I was probably of a generation before this one, but it reminds me of Mazo de la Roche's Jalna/Whiteoaks series. I'm not sure that had actual incest (I read them when I was a naive 13 or so) but there were some serious messed up family dynamics going on. I think the id-vortexy was too rich for my stomach at that age, as I read about 3-4 of the lengthy saga and gave up, a bit queasy.

From: [identity profile] catecumen.livejournal.com

Oh my, someone who remembers the Whiteoaks of Jalna! I was totally obsessed with that series when I was about thirteen, too.

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com

Haha, yes! I read this one in junior high, although it didn't lead to incest shippiness in me particularly. I do remember my eyebrows climbing and climbing until they practically leapt off my head.

The genius of it is how unashamedly over the top it is. Locked in the attic! Whipping! A swan bed! Tar! Blood feeding! Incest! Rat poison! And the sequels get even more that way. (Cathy becomes an OMG Famous Ballerina, based, apparently, on practicing ballet in the attic, and attracts—through no actual action of her own besides being beautiful and tragic—a whole string of dysfunctional lovers who fight over her while she mopes. More incest. An Explains Everything prequel. It's kind of amazing.) But I haven't read any of the other V.C. Andrews series.
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