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Flowers in the Attic: "Our Mother's Surprise" (Part 2)

Maggie Mae

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I have gained weight and my underwire is poking into my boobs. It's very uncomfortable, and yet, I'm ever so grateful that I have a bra at all, unlike Cathy. 

Cathy is waxing poetic about love, as many people have done throughout history. It's raining. The twins are watching TV. Chris and Cathy are laying on the old mattress in the attic, reading a book that their mother brought up from the downstairs library. They argue over each other's reading style. 

The book they are reading is likely made up for the novel. It's a book about star-crossed lovers who are looking for purple grass that they are already standing on. Because of the romantic nature of this book, and the unhappy ending, Cathy slams it shut and hurls it at a wall. She then rages out at her brother. He neckbeards at her about symbolism and they launch into a rather strange discussion and misplaced discussion about "romantic trash" literature, sexism in writing, and sexuality. During this exchange, we are reminded that Cathy has a bosom. Over her bosom, she is wearing white leotards (which she is wearing in a presumably filthy dusty attic, and washing in a bathtub, so while they are described as white, I'm going to picture them as dull grey with shiny spots from overwearing.) Over her leotards (more than one?) she has a short wool skirt and a wool cardigan. Great. I dress exactly like Cathy Dollanger, but I wear black instead of white. And my wool skirt is plaid.  They kiss. Eyes meld and held. There is nervous laughter.  The New Yorker has a piece about this book and chapter, and I recommend it.  Cathy decides that she is a sour lemon, contaminating Chris, who is a "barrel of good." 

She decides that to make him feel "manly" she needs to give him a haircut. Holy gender roles! She says that "right now, your hair is long and pretty, like mine" and he disagrees that Cathy's hair is pretty, and says maybe it was, before the tarring. Way to make your sister feel great, Chris. Is this part of that negging thing I read about? 

We learn that Chris is sleeping with a lock of Cathy's hair. It's just sort of mentioned, as though it's a perfectly normal thing. I'm not sure if this book is discussing that like it's normal as an intentional part of Cathy's narration and the general fucked-up-ness of their lives, or if VC Andrews thinks it's somehow romantic. 

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Then one day I caught him sitting in the attic sunshine, holding the long lengths of cut-off hair in his hands. He'd sniffed, then put it to his cheek, then to his lips, and then he hid it away in a box to keep under his pillow. 

Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew. 

Chris tell her again that he's never said her hair was pretty. She rubs his cheek and thinks about how he needs to shave. 

Neither Cathy, nor Carrie have had their hair trimmed since they came to Foxworth Attic. Now Cathy is claiming that only the top of hers had been snipped off to signify submission to "a mean old woman made of steel." Which makes me question again the whole "tarring" chapter, but whatever. 

A line from VC Andrews pops up here. 

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Had any brunette ever been locked away in a turret — if an attic could be considered a turret? 

I have to admit, I'm always a little worried about hair-cutting scenes, ever since "The Color Purple." I don't think I would cut anyone's hair, but especially not a man's. How weird is that? It seems so oddly intimate, before we get to the fact that I will likely associate it with rape for the rest of my life. Fortunately I live in a world where anyone can pop on down and get a haircut by someone with a license and not expect me to mangle up their hair. For now. Gilead could still happen. 

Chris's hair hangs below his shoulders, she tries not to take too much. Cathy uses a silver backed mirror with her initials to show him her work. Apparently, she received a sterling silver set of a brush, mirror, and comb for her last birthday. She has to hide it from the Grandmother, of course. 

Chris thinks he looks like Prince Valiant. Which. Um. 

Spoiler

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He calls her "Catherine Doll" which is creepy, because the whole "Dresden Dolls thing" is creepy to me. She says Prince Valiant should be lucky to look like him, and I probably agree. Then she lays it on reeeeel think with a "handsome, manly, blond brother" 

OK, VC, you can go to the salon and become blonde if that's what you want. It's OK. 

Chris "pounces" and chases her about the attic, threatening to cut her hair. If she gave him the haircut above, I can see why he wants revenge. 

This leads to her tripping and him stabbing her with the scissors. How do you not know that running with scissors is a no-no?  Ask your mom for some more up-to-date medical journals or something. Never mind. I'm sure the medical journals at the time were still spouting the benefits of cigarettes. Then again, maybe cigarettes would be preferable to arsenic donuts. 

Chris goes and gets medical supplies, Cathy worries about her sweater. I get you, Cathy, for once. 

After patching her up, he leans over her, gazing into her eyes, seriously and intense. She is "in thrall," which is a word that means "a servant or captive" but in this case means "the state of being in someone's power." Which is gross. LIke this book. 

She sees the suffering in her captor's eyes, which are kaleidoscopic and rainbowed. She draws his head down to her breast as she has seen her mother do??? WTF

He then BLAMES HER - "why did you run? Because you ran, I had to chase. I was only teasing. I wouldn't cut one strand from your head; it was just something to do, to have fun. And you were wrong when you said I thought your hair was pretty. It's more than just pretty. I think you may grow on your head the most glorious hair in the world." 

I'll leave that and allow you to make your own connections to the real world and the "it was a joke" excuse. 

The lay there, with Chris on her bare breast, she pretends to not notice him stroking it. He kisses her nipple. She wonders why it feels so strange and thinks about the romance novel they read together. She says "I can't imagine them doing what comes next" (breathlessly, of course.)

He wonders if Cathy knows what comes next. She does, "sort of." She asks him the same question. He laughs, and says he learned at school, in the boy's restroom. 

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Me? I don't think about girls, or sex, though I wish to God you weren't so damned pretty! And it would help if you weren't always so near, and so available. 

I wonder what their relationship would be like if their father hadn't died and they attended school like normal. Chris would probably grow up and be a know-it-all condescending doctor who dismisses women's pain. Cathy would likely be rather self-centered and superficial. But also, their lifestyle was likely unsustainable regardless, so I wonder if there would be some hard truths in their future? Perhaps lots of sibling fights where he makes fun of her and she makes fun of him. 

She says "you do think i'm pretty" and he moans, sits up, and stares down at her breasts. She cut off the tops of the too-small (white) leotards so he sees too much. He fastens her sweater, reminds her that she is his sister and that's weird and wrong, and reminds her that they need to check on the twins. They talk about sin. 

Cory is playing on his banjo because that's a super quiet activity that no one in the house will notice. Carrie sings, Chris plays guitar. We've got a family band in the attic! They sing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" together without actually saying the name of the song because song rights. 

Cory mentions that Mamma never noticed Cory's pet mouse and wonders why. Everyone is sad. Chris "brightly" explains the "new husband" aspect of her relationship. I wonder if "not telling your husband about your four minor children from a previous husband" is grounds for an annulment, because if not, Bart is really being screwed here.  

Cory calls Cathy out about the blood on her shirt, they lie about it being paint. Chris says, and I am not joking, "I want to look at TV while Cathy prepares dinner." and then orders her to put on a clean shirt. 

That night, Cathy thinks a lot about sex and love, and she decides that what she sees in his eyes makes her aroused. It takes five paragraphs to come to that conclusion, including some thinking about sin and the grandmother. 

Act Break!

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HerNameIsBuffy

Posted

Quote

It takes five paragraphs to come to that conclusion, including some thinking about sin and the grandmother. 

I can honestly say I've never thought about sex and my grandmother in anyway at the same time.  I guess my family did something right.

I should also thank my family for auburn hair which apparently kept me from being held prisoner.

How did she have the leotard cut? As a kid I assumed she'd cut the top so the bottom part would be like high waisted show pants and no top...but without a waist band Idk how they'd stay up.  And they would no longer be a leotard.  Unless all one piece like tights/show pants together and she cut the top?

Why does this bother me?

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AliceInFundyland

Posted

Maybe because thinking about the more sordid elements is too disturbing?

Again, it’s either “Ewwww.” or  “Huh?”

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clueliss

Posted

Of course, the leotard was white - we have to know how symbolically 'pure' Cathy is.  

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HerNameIsBuffy

Posted

8 minutes ago, clueliss said:

Of course, the leotard was white - we have to know how symbolically 'pure' Cathy is.  

And how little Corrine understands about hand laundry under their conditions.

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Maggie Mae

Posted

16 minutes ago, HerNameIsBuffy said:

And how little Corrine understands about hand laundry under their conditions.

Seriously. I doubt they were using bluing. Did they sneak in a washboard? I'm so grossed out. 

As for the cutting of the leotards - it just says "I had to cut off the too-small bodice" No idea. I could have sworn when I read this before, that she had cut under her breasts, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. 

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HerNameIsBuffy

Posted

Just now, Maggie Mae said:

Seriously. I doubt they were using bluing. Did they sneak in a washboard? I'm so grossed out. 

As for the cutting of the leotards - it just says "I had to cut off the too-small bodice" No idea. I could have sworn when I read this before, that she had cut under her breasts, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. 

SInce the bodice is the part from the waist up the way I imagined it as a kid makes sense.

But that's not how that fabric works.  you can't just cut and make show pants, the elastic wouldn't stay.  Like if you cut the waistband off pantyhose - it would just roll down.

I don't even know and I know that - VC can't even get the logistical stuff right.

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clueliss

Posted

What gets me about this - is I know writers who would have gone out, bought a leotard and cut it up to see what happens to make sure the got it right.  Obviously, VC just say eh - she cut it off and didn't worry about details.

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HerNameIsBuffy

Posted

2 minutes ago, clueliss said:

What gets me about this - is I know writers who would have gone out, bought a leotard and cut it up to see what happens to make sure the got it right.  Obviously, VC just say eh - she cut it off and didn't worry about details.

I don't think she counted on readers being more interested in the properties of lycra without reinforced wasitbands than grossly inappropriate nipple kisses.

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Maggie Mae

Posted

Just now, clueliss said:

What gets me about this - is I know writers who would have gone out, bought a leotard and cut it up to see what happens to make sure the got it right.  Obviously, VC just say eh - she cut it off and didn't worry about details.

Well, yeah. Cathy makes a point to remember that she was wearing a wool skirt and a wool cardigan, with white leotards. SHe doesn't explain why she's wearing more than one leotard. She doesn't remember what color her skirt is - or fit? Is it a mini, an a-line? What color is the cardigan? Then I think, it doesn't matter. Because the important part is the part where Chris and Cathy get to second base, along with the language that is uncomfortable to read at work. 

But once you juxtapose that with the part where VC Andrews clearly wants to be taken serious as a writer, it makes me wonder why she didn't think some of these little details all the way through. For example, after the starvation, Chris should not be complaining about the food not being seasoned properly. Nor should they hide the tarring and starving from their mother with no explanation. 

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