May 24, 2010

Critical Monkey, entry seven! Flowers in the Attic - There won't be any trips to the dentist until your grandfather dies.

So, here we are. My very last (thank the various imaginary deities) Critical Monkey challenge.

Number seven. Acceptance.


Not so wonderful, actually. My choice as capper to this tournament of evil is a staple of WalMart bookshelves, Safeway impulse racks, and pre-teen girl bedside tables. The Twilight of its time. A novel of potentially limitless awfulness, especially given its refusal to die a natural death.

I give you, Flowers in the Attic!

WHY I MIGHT HATE IT: C'mon, seriously? You can't not be familiar with this book, at least in passing. Written in 1979, V.C. Andrew's debut opus - a lurid blend of budding sexuality, gothic psycho-religious overtones, abandonment issues, confinement, incest, etc. - was an instant bestseller. Andrews went on to write a new novel every year or so, all covering the same basic themes, until her death in 1986, whereupon her name was implemented as a brand, and the series continues to this day. The covers all look the same, and let's be honest, I am obviously not the target demographic.

WHY I MIGHT LIKE IT: Can't think of reason one. If I could think of a reason I might like it, it probably wouldn't make the cut for this contest.

THE VERDICT: Well, it's marginally better than Twilight, anyway, but that's more to do its propulsive narrative than its overall quality.

I've been trying to determine exactly why none of the dialogue in Flowers works. And I mean none of it. Certainly, realistic dialogue is not necessary to enjoyment, and all literature requires at least a minor suspension of disbelief. Most novels contain passages no one would ever say; the novel I'm currently reading, Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction, is positively overflowing with brilliantly ridiculous dialogue impossible to accept as possible. Maybe it comes from desire; while no one would ever speak like a character in a Tom Robbins novel, I wish people could. The world would be a better place for it.

Contrast that with Flowers, with its pseudo-Victorian speech patterns that do nothing but annoy and never once approach believability. Here's a sample, a dialogue between the narrator Cathy (aged 14ish) and her brother Chris (17?):
"My God! You've made me look like a blond Prince Valiant! At first I didn't like it, but now I see you changed his style just a bit, so it isn't squared off. You've curved it, and layered it to flatter my face like a loving cup. Thank you, Catherine Doll. I had no idea you were so skilled at cutting hair."
"I have many skills you don't know about."
"I am beginning to suspect that."
"And Prince Valiant should be so lucky as to look like my handsome, manly, blond brother."
People don't talk like this, and I don't want people to talk like this. People who talk like a V.C. Andrews novel get beaten up an awful lot, I suspect. It's more entertaining than the deadly flat dialogue of Twilight, but equally bad all the same. Overwriting is Andrews' curse.

The plot, really a wonder of a soap opera, concerns the Dollanganger children. There's Cathy, the narrator; Christopher, the older brother; and Carrie and Cory, the twin babies. They exist in ridiculous happiness with their loving parents until ten pages in, when their father is killed in a car accident. High marks to Andrews for jumping right in to the action.

In a plot that challenges the definition of the word 'convoluted,' the mother must keep her children hidden from view of their grandfather. If he gets a whiff of their existence, she will be unable to claim any inheritance. She squirrels them away in an abandoned wing of his by all accounts massive mansion, where they spend years away from the outside world, tended to by a maniacal grandmother and an increasingly absent mother.

I'll give Flowers this; it does keep you reading. Andrews layers on so much ludicrous plot that, like an episode of One Life to Live, you can't help but wonder what could possibly happen next. This should not be read as a recommendation, but a warning; this is the worst sort of junk food for the mind, a soulless machine that keeps feeding you as much sugar as you crave. Oh, you'll eat, but you'll feel sick afterwards for stuffing your face. As the years (!) pass, and the children still haven't summoned up the courage to, I don't know, open the door and leave, Andrews piles on tragedy upon tragedy until the reader, along with the children, is left gasping for the pain to end.

The pain, that is, of reading it. Because Flowers is really, really bad. It gives the word 'loopy' a bad name. It's utterly stupid.

Which is why it sells, of course. It's a fantasy where children survive by their own wits against nefarious adults, set out in bleak tones readily identifiable to any morose teenage girl. And it never stops for breath, and never once does it appear that the phrase 'over-the-top' might have given Andrews pause.

But lord, is it bad. I read it, I can't unread it. The damage is done.

Still, again, better than Twilight.


And that's it. I complete my challenge. I'm, uh, going to go lie under the desk for awhile.


Tara Benwell said...

This is so hilarious. I remember reading the Flowers series back in high school and wondering how I could possibly want to read the next book. But I did. So glad I found you on twitter. Looking forward to more laughter. Sometimes all it takes is reading one post to find a writer you know you'll love.

Unknown said...

Wow! You made it. I have loved reading your reviews and enjoyed your humour. Congrats!

Lori L said...

Congratulations! (I guess?)What a scathingly brilliant choice and review for your final book! Some how I managed to avoid reading any of V.C. Andrews' books also so I'm pleased you took on this particular challenge instead of me. I had to explain my maniacal laughter after reading this line: "People who talk like a V.C. Andrews novel get beaten up an awful lot, I suspect."

Jeanne said...

I am so grateful for this warning, without which I might have one day let my curiosity overcome me!

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