May 25, 2004

With everything turbulent in the world -

- it is time to ask the really important question:

VC ANDREWS - Classic, Dud, Or Criminally Insane?

VC Andrews wrote a series of nasty little sexy dark books - starting with Flowers in the Attic, then moving on to Petals in the Wind, Seeds of Yesterday, and If There Be Thorns. These semi-pornographic and WEIRD WEIRD books were passed around in my junior high the way Fanny Hill was probably passed around a century or two ago.

Everyone read them.

It might be more of a girl thing, than a boy thing ... not sure. These books were read, at least in my school, during that awkward junior-high moment - when girls are like little women, with budding bodies and sex drives, and the boys still have high voices and have no interest in girls.

Of course, it takes one summer vacation to change all of that - but that seems to be (in my memory) when you would look around the cafeteria, and see every 13 year old girl, hunched over Petals on the Wind - while the boys all sat together, trading baseball cards, reading comics, and showing no interest in any of us. So we had to let the frustration out somehow!

I cannot stress enough how weird these books were. So weird that I felt guilty when I bought them for myself.

The covers were always of "scary" children - who always seemed to have a spotlight shining up at them from below, which put enormous shadows under their eyes.

The books were filled with greedy EVIL adults, and pale washed-out children who had swirling sexual feelings ...

I remember LOVING them, but ... with an almost unhealthy addictive feeling. I remember not feeling comfortable reading them in front of my parents. They were a secret. I loved how she wrote, and I loved the main character (a ballerina) ... a ballerina with deep dark haunted shadows under her eyes.

Dan? Emily? We discussed these books before, I believe. In the comments to this post here.

Anyone else out there remember these creepy dark sex books, marketed to kids??

One of the commenters in the thread I link to says:

I remember reading Flowers and one or two other books by Andrews, some 15 years ago. I know I became engrossed in them. There's no doubt about that. However, it seems that I was traumatized by them. At some point, I started thinking "There is something very wrong with this person." And now, when I see one of the books I actally recoil from it.

I have no idea why that is. Maybe I am the one who is criminally insane.

God. EXACTLY. When I looked over them again - after my tortured adolescence - I had the same thought, in re: VC Andrews herself: "There is something seriously wrong with this person."

VC Andrews died years ago ... and yet books "by" her still come out. "Based on her outlines". Yeah, right. And each book still has the same motif:

A small haunted-looking child peeking out of a peephole in the cover, with dark shadows under their eyes, from the spotlight below.

CREEPY.

Anyway. Long tangent over. Like I said: in today's chaotic violent world, it's important to ask the important question from time to time:


VC ANDREWS - Classic, Dud, Or Criminally Insane?

UPDATE: The frightening (and relatively universal) role that the VC Andrews books played on Blind Cavefish's sex education.


Posted by sheila
Comments

They weren't classis, for certain. When I think "dud", I think "unreadable", which they certainly weren't. I guess the best way I can imagine them in comparison is to think about the morbid temptation I have to crane my neck to peek at a bad car accident. I know it's a sick, macabre violation, but every instinct in me dictates that I have a look.

I don't remember many of the details of the books, just that they were like a gothic soap opera of sorts.

Posted by: Emily at May 25, 2004 04:43 PM

I was reading all that stuff too ... well, not Heinlein - but the Hobbit and Tolkien stuff. But there were other needs ... deeper 12 year old girl kinds of needs ... Hence: VC Andrews

But these aren't just little "Oh, girl meets boy" stories. They are sick. And they were best-sellers. They sold millions of copies.

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 04:45 PM

Yeah. They were definitely traffic-accident soft-core porn. Filled with haunted children.

Jeez. A winning combination, indeed.

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 04:46 PM

Oh and these books were DEFINITELY trash. And I mean, trash. But trash with a high-gloss. The writing wasn't half-bad at points - which made the whole thing that much more creepy.

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 04:49 PM

Well, I won't leave you hanging in the wind, all by your lonesome. I LOVED those books. I also never let my parents see them. Much creepy/sex/smuttier than "Forever" or "Wifey". Although, I did love "Summer Sisters" ( a newer adult Judy Blume book). I think we all have the inner 12 year old skank in each of us.

Posted by: Beth at May 25, 2004 04:59 PM

I've never actually read them. I was just astonished at the way they continued to be published, long after V.C. Andrew's death.

At that age I was reading all manner of geeky guy things.

Posted by: Dan at May 25, 2004 05:01 PM

"Forever" was the book passed around in 6th grade. Bootleg copies bought by the one 11 year old skank brave enough to go up to the cashier at Waldens and openly buy it.

I thought I learned about sex from that book.

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 05:05 PM

You mean you didn't???

Posted by: Beth at May 25, 2004 05:08 PM

Well. No. It was only half the story. heh heh

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 05:08 PM

What was that other cheesy "Forever" type book which was made into a movie with Rex Smith (which spawned a hit song) - about a 15 year old girl falling in love (and losing her virginity) to a rock star??

Anyone remember that?

I am trying to remember that Rex Smith song right now ...

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 05:11 PM

You take my Breath Away

Posted by: Beth at May 25, 2004 05:13 PM

Excellent, Beth.

"and I don't know what to say..."

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 05:14 PM

The movie was called "Sooner or Later". I read the book. It was graphic. I loved it. I was 15.

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 05:15 PM

It makes me sad to think of how many important things I can't remember because my brain is stock full of crap like this.

Posted by: Beth at May 25, 2004 05:18 PM

Oops-I meant chock full. See what I mean????

Posted by: Beth at May 25, 2004 05:19 PM

hahaha

It's like me knowing the exact weight of the King of Tonga. 444 pounds.

I could really use that brain space for other things.

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 05:41 PM

My mom actually ALLOWED me to read them. Was she mad? I devoured those books and basked in their trashy glory. It might be why I'm such a Lifetime Original Movie addict now that I'm an adult.

Posted by: jess at May 25, 2004 05:59 PM

red asks:" What was that other cheesy "Forever" type book which was made into a movie with Rex Smith (which spawned a hit song) - about a 15 year old girl falling in love (and losing her virginity) to a rock star??"

I thought it was "Rock and Rock High School."
I need help, fast.

I never read any of V.C.Andrews stuff, but I did once listen to a book on tape of "Flowers in the Attic." I used to travel a lot on business, and I just collected and swappped a thousand of those things. Mostly stuff that I would never read in a million years, but it was a way to pass the time on long streches of interstate. The only reason I remember the story is that I was taken aback by its total creepiness. Mom locks her kids in the attic for years on end with subtle allusions to incest and depravity.

I wonder what people will think of it in a hundred years?

Posted by: spd rdr at May 25, 2004 06:01 PM

So WEIRD! The Rex Smith movie was called Sooner or Later.

I think I'm the one who needs help, spd rdr.

Yes. The books somehow made incest seem ... desirable? It's crazy!!!

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 06:02 PM

Well, Jess: somehow they seemed like "real" books. Not trash. But I think they're way too trashy and sick for Lifetime!

Posted by: red at May 25, 2004 06:03 PM

Oh honestly, like Baby Sitters Club was much better...

Posted by: Ptitza Odelay at May 25, 2004 06:06 PM

V. C. Andrews is dead???? I didn't even know she was sick!! HAR HAR. Sorry.

I shouldn't be posting on this as I am likely a generation older than anyone else on this thread. I am verging on the dirty old man category here. I only read one V. C. Andrews and that was years ago when I was stuck in a remote place with only Flowers in the Attic and some Reader's Digests to read and I as I have been known to read the back of cereal boxes I plowed through it. I remember thinking book was disturbing and disturbed. I didn't realize there was such a cult following of them among pre teen girls. Definitely a weird book. I know this doesn't respond to the topic, but I would say she was definitely not a classic, not a complete dud and somewhere short of criminally insane--hell, she was most likely short of actually insane--just a little loopy.

Posted by: Steve Wilson at May 25, 2004 06:53 PM

Dear Sheila:

I have NO IDEA about V.C. Andrews, let alone that whole string of stuff he wrote.

I grew up in a different era, as much as I'd like to say I didn't - we were far too busy watching our big brothers go off to a place called Vietnam, where in spite of all good intentions we were LOSING the first war in our long history, and the hottest thing on the turntable (remember; it was 1968) was the Sinatra/Hazelwood piece "Some Velvet Morning".

We had maps of Southeast Asia on our walls, rather than posters of Avril Lavigne.

We read about children starving in Biafra while the nation fought for its life.

We had a bomb-shelter in the backyard. Even used it in '62.

We'd seen a president shot before our eyes in our lifetime.

Sex was something you did when you were old enough. We didn't need books, although "Catcher in the Rye" sufficed for some of us. "Playboy" was as risque as it got, and our parents worried needlessly about the secret meaning to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".

I liked girls just fine. Some of them liked me, although I knew full well at age thirteen what happened when you had sex. Babies got made that way, and that was something you didn't do -- period -- until you got married.

Life was simpler then. Right.

(P.S.: Knowing the weight of the King of Tonga struck me as one of the more meaningful facts I've heard of late; really.)

Best,

-Will

Posted by: Will at May 25, 2004 06:59 PM

Damn, Will. That's not the way I remember it.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 25, 2004 07:41 PM

I think most kids around that age are trying to figure all that stuff out, and we shy/geeky ones look to books for enlightenment. For me the source was Harold Robbins, who, while considerably less freaky than Andrews, was (I think) more explicit and kinky enough to mess me up for a good while (I bet I was the only thirteen-year-old in my school who'd heard of amyl nitrate and knew the moment to pop open a capsule -- not that I ever got to try it). Relevant lyrics:

Well, I remember when the lights went out
And I was tryin' to make it look like it was never in doubt
She thought that I knew, and I thought that she knew
So both of us were willing, but we didn't know how to do it

Posted by: Michael at May 25, 2004 08:00 PM

one more cultural phenomenon i know nothing about. my sisters loved those books. i have never read a one.

i vote for insane, just cause it sounds like more fun.

Posted by: The Mighty Jimbo at May 25, 2004 08:06 PM

I was probably the one kid who did not read V.C. Andrews. They were too scary-looking to me. I was a delicate flower.

But I just have to say, I freakin' LOVED Rex Smith.

Posted by: Anne at May 25, 2004 10:47 PM

And besides, I was too busy reading boarding school stories.

Posted by: Anne at May 25, 2004 10:49 PM

Ugh...I really got scared out of my wits by those books. I can't remember where I stopped...but the eldest girl had a miscarriage or something...but they did freak me out and I stopped reading them. I vote for insane...it would at least make sense to me why someone wrote books as weirded out as those (I mean, powdered doughnut not with powdered sugar but with arsenic? Wha?!)

Posted by: Kinuk at May 26, 2004 03:21 AM

Will:

VC Andrews is a "she".

Your comment rubbed me the wrong way.

"We had maps of Southeast Asia on our walls, rather than posters of Avril Lavigne"

Gimme a break. That is so OBNOXIOUS!!

People had maps of Southeast Asia on the wall, but they also had posters of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

So pompous!

At the very time that I was reading these masturbatory books a couple of other things were happening of which I was FULLY aware:

-- the Iranian hostage crisis
-- the gas shortage
-- Grenada, in there somewhere
-- Pres. Reagan being shot


Etc. Etc. And yet - WOW - I was still a horny teenager!!

Teenagers will always be horny.

I also felt that sex should be something I did when I was old enough - and I waited until I WAS old enough. But that doesn't mean I wasn't curious, and clawing at the walls with my own underage desire.

So there.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 09:46 AM

Oh yes, forgot to mention:

-- the hunger strikes in Ireland
-- the war in Lebanon, the US Marine barracks being blown to pieces

Maybe your comment was tongue in cheek - I'm sure it was, somewhere, but still - rubbed me the wrong way.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 09:48 AM

Kinuk:

oh my god. Forgot about the powdered donuts.

JESUS

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 09:49 AM

sheila, i can't believe we've never talked about these books before. i read them voraciously. i still have indelible memories of flowers in the attic....the kids being locked in the attic, the twins having sex with one another in the bathtub, them sneaking out during a big adult party downstairs and watching from the top of the stairs, the evil grandmother. wow, every detail of those booksis lodged somewhere in the accessible memories part of my brain. do you remember the jewelry box with the ballarina that the father gave to (what was her name

Posted by: Allison at May 26, 2004 10:00 AM

Michael:

amyl nitrate!! Oh GOD. Harold Robbins is a nut.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 10:02 AM

Cathy was her name.

They all had names starting with "C".

Yes, the adult party downstairs ... and then one of the twins getting sick ... because of the powdered donuts ...

I can't remember how they escaped, though.

Petals in the Wind, the story of their life on the "outside", is even weirder. Cathy gets mixed up with Julian, the famous ballet dancer ... who is supposed to be a sexy cruel man - but I always just thought he was cruel.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 10:03 AM

Will -

Every time I read your comment I get madder.

Just so you know.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 10:04 AM

must add that the fact that i have such instant recall of these books is not something i'm necessarily proud of....but for whatever reason they stuck with me.

Posted by: Allison at May 26, 2004 10:07 AM

They are creepy. They are unforgettable. They are SICK.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 10:08 AM

yes, the powdered donuts! i seem to recall that there was a fire....was that maybe how they escaped?

Posted by: Allison at May 26, 2004 10:09 AM

Sheila -- I think there's a bit of irony to Will's comment, considering he's referring to the generation that literally invented teen-aged overindulgence.

Posted by: Emily at May 26, 2004 10:47 AM

I remember being SO excited when Flowers in the Attic was made into a movie. Then I saw it and they left out all the dirty stuff. Such a disappointment.

Posted by: jess at May 26, 2004 11:10 AM

I missed the irony, then. Forgive! I have a tendency to do that, except in face-to-face conversation.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 11:12 AM

I devoured these books. And felt guilty for weeks after I read each one. What kind of mind comes up with this stuff?? Gave me the creeps just to think about where she got her ideas from.

Posted by: michele at May 26, 2004 11:12 AM

Oh, and good point about the generation that invented self-indulgence!! Ha!

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 11:13 AM

Michele: I know. I had this whole messed-up theory about VC Andrews - and who she was - and that these creepy books were actually autobiographical - because there never were author photos in the back of the books ...

My own psyche was infiltrated by the creepiness.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 11:30 AM

Here's a short bio on her:
Born c. 1924, in Portsmouth, VA, United States; died December 19, 1986, of cancer in Virginia Beach, VA, buried in Portsmouth, VA; daughter of William Henry (a tool and die maker) and Lillian Lilnora (a telephone operator; maiden name, Parker) Andrews. Education: Educated in Portsmouth, Virginia.

I only read Flowers after my disturbed cousin told me what a great book it was. My vote is DUD! The writing was indigestible and the plot made you feel line-cook greasy. Blech!

Posted by: Liz at May 26, 2004 02:26 PM

Liz:

"my disturbed cousin"... Oh Lordy, that made me laugh!!

Thanks for the bio, too.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 02:27 PM

Apparently she gave a lot of interviews to the Washington Post. Here is a little more on her life:

Crippled in her childhood as a result of medical neglect, Andrews spent most of her adolescence on crutches and as an adult remained largely confined to a wheelchair. In spite of several painful operations during her late teens, she was able to finish high school. From there she went on to complete a four year art course. In fact, before the huge success of Flowers in the Attic, Andrews supported herself quite comfortably as a commercial artist.

I've linked a photo of her, with some commentary, over at Truly Bad Films.

Posted by: Liz at May 26, 2004 02:49 PM

I believe the last name was Dahlgren, and the bad adults thought of the as "Dolls" in the attice. Eww.

Posted by: Beth at May 26, 2004 03:58 PM

Beth, I'm scared of you. Yet I also am impressed.

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 06:34 PM

To quote Rex Smith, Beth: "You take my breath away."

Posted by: red at May 26, 2004 06:35 PM

I don't know what to say. And YOU take my breath way.

Posted by: Beth at May 26, 2004 10:23 PM

Dear Sheila:

Gawd-DAYUM, woman!!!

Did I hit a nerve, or what?!?! I guess my irony wasn't too subtle -- regardless; I didn't mean to offend -- I merely meant to juxtapose what was with what is -- and I really DID have a map of southeast Asia on the wall, along with one of Biafra -- remember; my Dad was an Air Force colonel, and such things were common in our household.

I never did have a pic of Jim Morrison, although I (along with everyone else) listened to The Doors; I was never overindulged (there simply wasn't the money, or the parental tolerance for such things) -- and I've always considered Janis Joplin a talentless twit.

Underage curiousity (rather than outright desire) was more the norm - but then again, please remember that I'm not a city boy -- I grew up (and still live) in Oregon - I simply didn't have the exposure to all-things-sexual from age zero on up as they do now.

I don't suppose I'm saying anything here that I didn't already say -- I'm truly sorry if you thought my comment about maps vs. Avril was 'obnoxious' -- it truly wasn't meant to be; only to juxtapose then with now.

Be well! (...or; as we used to say - Peace!....)

-W

Posted by: Will at May 27, 2004 12:14 AM

Will,

I didn't grow up in the city. I grew up in surrounded by turf farms, and played in the woods.

Sexual curiosity is universal. It has nothing to do with growing up in the city, or what generation you grew up in.

Kids growing up in Beirut with the bombs raining down around them also probably rifled through their father's drawers looking for Playboy.

I don't like generalizations. They piss me off.

Thanks for the apology, though.

Posted by: red at May 27, 2004 09:15 AM