In Which Marion Does a Bad Thing

I did a bad thing, and I still feel the effects of it hours later. I hope I bounce back, but this may have traumatized me for life.

(Trigger warning for icky sexual material.)

You know how in horror movies there are certain things you scream at the screen? Like “Don’t go down there alone!” “Don’t split up!” “Don’t open the book!”

I opened the book.

The book was a mass market paperback, fairly new, with a newish cover. I think it had a young woman, maybe in a white nightgown or dress, on the cover, but like many bad experiences, I don’t remember exactly. The author’s name was Virginia Andrews. (For some of you this will be a clue.) The title was Flowers in the Attic.

I assumed (never assume!) that this was some kind of reimagining of the creepy cult classic from the 1970s. (It wasn’t. It’s a reprint.) And so I opened the book at random, and before I could stop myself, my gaze lit on words in a row and I read them.

Oh, good Lord.

Holy Christmas Cake*.

Sweet Mother of God.

Who knew?

Who knew that the original, aside from being creepy and sick, was this bad?

The book opened, or I opened it, to a page where a woman is standing in an attic. A shadowy voice says — no, wait, that’s not fair. There isn’t a shadowy voice. There’s no such thing. A voice speaking in italics orders the woman to take off her blouse which she does. The first-person narrator notices that Mama doesn’t wear a slip or a bra, and as the blouse is removed, she sees why: Mama’s back is covered with whip-marks. Or, no, “puffy, blood-encrusted welts against her creamy white skin.” Most of Mama’s creamy white skin is covered with welts and most of them are encrusted with blood. It’s really lucky that none of that blood got on the blouse, especially since there was no intervening fabric.

Intellectually I know that the paragraph I read could not really contain both “blood-encrusted welts,” and “creamy white skin” seventeen times each. The paragraph wasn’t that long. It was probably only two or three times each. Or four. Or maybe five. It seemed like a lot. Especially “creamy white skin.” Especially in the sentence that reads something like “… Mama’s creamy white skin that Papa used to touch so gently.”

Oh, ick. Ick, ick, ick.

If the words had a scent, these would give off the stench of decomposing flesh released from a recently uncovered mass grave.

You know how, if you’re in an accident, like a fall from a horse, or something with your car, or maybe even just with a friend who gets hurt, you sometimes think you’re doing something very rational, but a couple of days or maybe a week later you look back and say to yourself, “Wow, I really wasn’t thinking clearly?” Well, I wasn’t thinking clearly, because I pulled my gaze away from the terrible,terrible words on the left hand page and let myself look at the right hand page and then I read another paragraph!

In this one, cackling, whip-wielding grandmama takes gleeful credit for whipping Mama, and then launches into a diatribe that explains what’s going to happen in the rest of the book, and her motivations. There’s a sentence that goes something like, “Shelter, food and water we will dole out… but no love, warmth or compassion.” Okay, fans of creepy overwrought sadomasochism, there you go. Because this is how people talked in 1979. Or 1957, when the story allegedly takes place.

Grandma tells us that she gave Mama thirty-five lashes, one for every year of Mama’s life. Here is a plot question; Mama is a grown-up. Now widowed, why has she brought her children back to her hateful mother and father? Why not, I don’t know, rent an apartment? Get a job? Whatever? But, no.

Um, okay.

I have, now and then, picked up copies of the various Fifty Shades books and read entire paragraphs, and I have to say in comparison, E.J. James should be a contender for the Booker Prize.

Never mind that the story itself is icky and disgusting… so are random sentences that snare the reader who carelessly opens the book.

And this book is reputed to have sold over 40 million copies. It’s been made into a movie more than once, and I think it might be a a TV show even now.

I opted out of reading this book when it came out. People where I worked told me about it. One of them warned me, earnestly, about the incest, which I thought at the time wouldn’t have bothered me. (That was before I read “…creamy white skin that Papa…” etc.) Another reader, a fan, told me about the doughnuts, though, and that helped me decide that, um, no, not for me.

I had no idea until today just how very Not For Me the book was.

But again, big cult hit, so big that when Andrews, who wrote the book as “V.C. Andrews” died, an entire stable of writers churned out gothic-incest sequel after sequel with titles like Petals on the Wind (that might have been written by Andrews herself), and Thorns in the Outhouse and Doughnuts in the Attic. They went on for years! Years and years, decades even!

(Okay, except for the “Petals” one, those aren’t actual titles.)


Anyway. I closed the book and put it down before the infection could spread any farther. I figure if I read a couple of really good books immediately, I may have a full recovery. But just… Wow.

Don’t go into the basement alone. Don’t split up. And if the book looks like a reprint of some disgusting thing from much, much earlier in your life, that you didn’t want to read then, don’t open the book. Learn from my mistake.

*Courtesy of Orphan Black, “Holy Christmas Cake” is one of Alison Hendrix’s expressions

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3 Responses to In Which Marion Does a Bad Thing

  1. Terry Connelly says:

    Excellent! I know now that I would never read this book. Your humor enlightens the review.

  2. Brandy says:

    Ha! I can’t help but feel some responsibility by virtue of having put it on the shelf for you to browse in good faith. I apologize for any lingering trauma. I suspect the only readers truly able to appreciate this book’s “appeal” are teenagers entering the morbid phase, aka the time period when vampire novels and dying-for-love tropes feel like the most riveting things ever.

    *Thorns in the Outhouse* – Ouch. This could require a hospital visit, or at the very least a pair of tweezers.

    (I still think you’re giving E. L. James too much credit.)

  3. Marion says:

    I’d certainly have a few things to say if E.L. James DID win the Booker Prize.

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