Now she will come face to face with the dangerous, terrifying secret everyone knows. Everyone except My Sweet Audrina.
What the hell did I just read?
OK, I’ll back it up here a second. Since this blog’s beginnings, there are three books that most frequently come in as readers’ requests. One is M.E. Kerr’s Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, which I will probably get to at some point, even though I feel like it’s just on the cusp of being too familiar to qualify as a “Lost Classic”. The second is Go Ask Alice, which I definitely feel like is too well-remembered and widely-read; as a comprise I did review Anonymous/Beatrice Sparks’s Jay’s Journal, which in my humble opinion is much wilder and weirder than Alice and remains one of my favorite “discoveries” for this project.
The third book is Flowers in the Attic, which (aside from being well known and widely-read) is a real literary mess. I read it for the first time as an adult and was shocked that any 13-year-old got through enough of it to even giggle about the dirty parts. At time I remember thinking that it was like playing pretend with your friends, where you have this nice gothic fantasy going about having to escape from your evil grandmother’s attic and you have this one inappropriate friend who keeps bringing weird sex stuff into it. It’s like you’re obsessed with my brother or something, Carly!
So initially I thought I’d appease the V.C. Andrews (®) requestors with her second-most infamous book…
The Plot: And what the hell did I just read?
My Sweet Audrina manages to be both prurient and boring (I found myself nodding off multiple times while reading it). It is like 10 year olds attempting to write pornography, but they don’t have a real grasp on what sex is all about, but maybe they saw part of a Playboy once and their imaginations are making it super-weird. And they’ll just fill in the rest with an extremely long and complex plot in which many people fall down the stairs and die.
Or maybe it’s propaganda by realtors with an overstock of ranch-style houses.
Narrated by 7-year-old Audrina Adare, she sets the tone in the opening passage:
There was a war going on in our house, a silent war that sounded no guns, and the bodies that fell were only wishes that died and the bullets were only words and the blood that was spilled was always called pride.
HOLY EXTENDED METAPHOR, BATMAN! We are literally one sentence in. Don’t give all away on the first page, Audrina!
Audrina is actually Audrina II (Cajun Justice), the first Audrina, AKA The Best Audrina, AKA the Good and Perfect Audrina AKA The Never Wrong Audrina, having died nine years before the book opens, in a vaguely-described set of circumstances involving some local boys. Audrina II, AKA The Worst Audrina, lives at Whitefern, a vast Virginia estate that hasn’t been updated since the Civil War, and within the walls of which her mother Lucietta (called Lucky) carries on like a cartoon of a Southern Belle, floating through the gaslamp-lit house in filmy dressing gowns and retiring to the fainting couch in her Roman Salon to eat bonbons and read romance novels. Which is pretty much exactly how I thought of rich people’s lives as a child, so point Andrews.
Audrina’s father, Damian Adare (SUBTLE!) is a six-foot five-inch Aryan superman, who has a vaguely-described job in banking and a sadistic streak. Also living at Whitefern is Aunt Ellsbeth, a former teacher who was fired after slapping around too many of her students and now is the Adares’ charity case; and Ellsbeth’s illegitimate daughter, Vera, who is sexually precocious and has brittle bones.
Damian is still obsessed with the First Audrina and claims that she had a vaguely-defined “gift” that he is convinced Audrina II can “catch” if she just spends enough time in the first Audrina’s rocking chair, lulling herself into a trance and trying to remember…. Uh, something?
That is the main problem the present Audrina seems to be suffering from, she has no grasp of time, which seems to expand and contract at the adults’ whim, never sure what day or month or season it is, or even what time of day it is, as all of the clocks at Whitefern read different times and seem to toll randomly throughout the day.
There is a lot of plot. Vera is mean and keeps falling down the stairs or getting beaten by her mother so she always has one limb or another in a cast. She is extremely jealous of Damian’s attention toward Audrina, although her interactions with her cousin run hot and cold depending on what course of manipulation she is taking.
Damian and Lucky are into some weird sex stuff. Let’s go to a quote:
“Truthfully, I feel rather safe in my lonely bed, without a handsome brute of a man who likes to wield his belt for a whip.”
“Ellsbeth, how dare you tell my best friend such nonsense? Damian and I play games, that’s all. It adds to his excitement and mine.” Momma smiled apologetically at the photograph. “Unfortunately, Ellsbeth knows nothing at all about the many ways of pleasing a man, or giving him what he likes.”
Oh, did I mention that the above exchange is happening at the sisters’ weekly tea party/memorial service/séance for an aunt who disappeared while serving as a missionary in Africa and was eaten by cannibals?
While Vera is allowed to go to school, Audrina is kept home, and specifically away from BOYS, so when Vera’s alleged boyfriend Arden Nelson Lowe (!!!) moves into a cottage on the property and meets Audrina, who is soon sneaking out to visit him and his glamorous mother, Billie.
Billie has a secret, which is that she was a famous figure skater until she had to have her legs amputated.
Audrina eventually convinces her father to allow her to attend school, although she is sent to an elite private school while Vera has to ride the bus to the local public high school.
Lucky gets pregnant and dies in childbirth. The baby is born with non-specific birth defects and institutionalized.
Audrina is allowed to start taking piano lessons, hoping to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Vera seduces her music teacher and runs off to New York City, where she drives him to suicide.
(LIKE I SAID, THERE IS A LOT GOING ON HERE!)
Damian eventually brings Audrina’s two-year old sister home and makes it clear that the “hopelessly retarded” Sylvia will be teenaged Audrina’s full-time responsibility. Audrina finally “catches” old Audrina’s “gift”, which is picking stocks for her father, but also telepathically communicating with Sylvia.
Something was weird about my life.
You said it, Audrina.
Damian resumes his affair with Ellsbeth (he’s Vera’s real father because OF COURSE HE IS), and Audrina overhears her Aunt having an extremely expository fight in which all is revealed, including that fact that Damian has been running a variety of illegal schemes to finance their luxurious lifestyle.
After which she promptly falls down the stairs and DIES.
Audrina elopes with Arden. Their wedding night is extremely awkward to read about, both because Audrina is “repressed” and Arden’s idea of pillow talk is:
“A woman can live out her life happily without sex, so I’ve heard said, but a man has a buildup of sperm that has to be released one way or another.”
When they return to Whitefern, Damian keeps the couple under his thumb by hiring Arden to work in his office and moving Billie into the house, which Audrina quickly uncovers ulterior motives for doing so:
He’d seduced her with his gifts, with his charm and good looks, so he could have the kinky thrill of having sex with a legless woman.
Billie promptly falls down the stairs and DIES.
Also: Vera’s back! She starts sleeping with Arden.
Audrina has a vision of the First Audrina’s gang rape and murder, and promptly falls down the stairs and into a coma.
Three weeks later she wakes up enough to hear Vera wheedling Arden to pull the plug on her life support and ply him with a handjob in her hospital room. What a catch, that guy.
Vera (who became an RN after driving Audrina’s music teacher to suicide) does a full-on Bond Villain confession to the “comatose” Audrina, including admitting that she has been slowly poisoning her and outlining her plan to get Sylvia to pull the plug on Audrina’s respirator by attaching the plug to a plate of cookies and putting it under her bed which sounds like a NEEDLESSLY COMPLICATED plan.
Audrina telepathically communicates with Sylvia who rescues and hides her from Vera. When Arden discovers that his beloved wife is now coma-free… he’s pretty much a douche about it actually:
“What the hell do you think I’m made of? You were in a coma and Vera was there, willing to do what she could to help me survive. You lay on that bed stiff and cold- and how was I to know that day by day you were gradually getting better when you never indicated in any way that you were?”
I WAS IN A COMA, ARDEN!
Are you ready for the big reveal? Audrina I and II are the same person. After the trauma of being gang raped (and seeing Arden flee the scene without getting help) (A PRINCE), Damian arranged for electroshock therapy for his daughter, but that only had the effect of giving her amnesia about the event. So, he instead decides upon a course of brainwashing and gaslighting, convincing Audrina that she is two years younger than her actual age and fabricating a long-dead older sister.
Let’s go to a quote:
“Are you listening, darling? I made you into a virgin again. Maybe I confused things for you a bit, but it was the best I could do.
I made Vera swear she’d never tell you the truth or she’d be punished so severely that she’d never want to look in a mirror again.”
Audrina wonders if it was Vera who had sent the boys after her, but before she can confront her about it, Vera falls down the stairs AND DIES.
Audrina decides to leave Whitefern with Sylvia, Arden is still being a huge douche:
“Your love is a capricious thing, Audrina. Don’t you owe it to me to stay and see if our marriage can’t be salvaged?”
But she bids an extremely awkward farewell to her terrible husband:
“Goodbye, Arden. I’ll never forget all the fun we used to have when I believed you loved me. Even if I didn’t respond sexually the way you wanted all the time, I loved you in my own way.”
…But then Sylvia telepathically begs her to stay and instead Audrina rejoins her terrible husband and family with the extremely healthy thought of:
Arden and I would begin again in Whitefern, and if this time we failed, we’d begin a third time, a fourth…
HOLY FUCK, I’M SO EXCITED THAT YOU READ THIS, MY SWEET AUDRINA IS MY FAVOURITE V.C. ANDREWS BOOK. what an absolutely INSANE thing this was to discover in 8th or 9th grade.
😀 I am not going to say that I liked it or deny I’m happy to be done with it so I can read something else… But I am glad I read it because holy shit, this rates as one of the top 5 most bonkers things I’ve ever read.
Arden is the WORST. Why didn’t he fall down the stairs and DIE?
A couple years ago, the VC Andrews ghostwriter finally wrote a sequel, and if you thought Arden was THE WORST in this book, he is ULTRA SUPER TURBO THE WORST in that one.
OH NO! I thought I had freed myself from VC Andrews’s ® clutches, but now I TOTALLY WANT TO READ THAT!
Penises protect you from stair death.
THEY DO!!! LOL
I just can’t even … I’m totally confused right now …
There was a Lifetime Movie of this book! It’s on YouTube! Made just a couple of years ago.
I’m right there with you, Susan: if somebody told me this was a plot of book that had actually been published I wouldn’t believe them, LOL.
Thanks for the heads up about the movie being on Youtube, I’ll have to take a look. I saw the Lifetime remake of Flowers in the Attic when it was on, and it didn’t really make much of an impression- I sort of remember that it was waaaaay toned down from the book, making it much less crazy.
Well for one thing, it made the sex between Christopher and Cathy consensual…and then it had one of the twins walking in during their afterglow. Ewwwwwwwww……
Still, it was 1000 times better than the original movie which came out in the late ’80s.
I had high hopes, since Kiernan Shipka/Heather Graham/Ellen Burstyn was just about the most perfect casting I could ask for, but it pretty much vanished from my brain after watching it, LOL.
I actually don’t remember if I saw the entire 80’s version or just parts of it, but my impression is that it was also really toned down from the source material, but also EVEN CRAZIER than the book.
Wow, the internet is telling me that the 2014 version had THREE sequels. I remember a huge billboard at 8th Ave & 42nd st in New York City (near Times Square) for Petals on the Wind being up for about 6 months, but hadn’t heard anything about the additional sequels!
Thanks for commenting!
Petals on the Wind SUCKED. They totally threw Dr Paul under the bus – literally- it opened with his funeral 2.5 seconds after the kids move in with him. That pissed me off so much that I complained about it to anyone who would listen for like a week.
The ’80s version was AWFUL, beyond terrible. None of the kids (*maybe* except Kristy Swanson) were pretty enough, and Victoria Tennant as the mom was wooden beyond belief. (Louise Fletcher as the grandmother is inspired casting, though.) They left out the incest plot completely, I’m pretty sure Cory didn’t die, and the ending was changed so that instead of escaping, they walk in on the mom getting married. She’s so shocked to see them that she….accidentally hangs herself.
Yes, the 2014 was succeeded by TV-film adaptations of the three sequels to the books–Petals On the Wind, If There Be Thorns and Seeds of Yesterday. IIRC Seeds of Yesterday, which was only a so-so book, REALLY doubled down on the incest thing and had Bart Jr. and Cindy in an incestuous relationship similar to Cathy and Chris, which was NOT in the book!
Garden of Shadows was great and should be adapted.
And do yourself a favor and do NOT read Christopher’s Diary (recent generations later sequel, ghostwritten).
Oh man, that actually makes me want to watch all of those.
Yeah, it was the ending of the 80s version I was thinking of. Although I have no idea how they got any netowrk to greenlight an adaptation at ALL!
What??? I did not know that even existed. I’m going to have to track a copy down.
Holy hell. I must have read this during my VC Andrews phase at some point. How did any of us grow up normal? Oh wait…..
Wow, I had forgotten how bizarre this book was, and I was too young when I read it to realize how freakin’ misogynistic it was. Yikes!
I’m laughing that you compared Flowers in the Attic to a kids’ game. The movie came out when I was in fourth grade, and all the girls wanted to play Flowers in the Attic on the playground. The attic, of course, was the top of the jungle gym.
VC Andrews…the most inexplicably popular author for teenage girls of my generation. One big incest-fest, and we couldn’t get enough.
I remember having this exact thought when reading Flowers in the Attic 15 years ago, and was somehow still surprised by how completely bizarre this was!
I remember the scene where when questioned about one of the staircase deaths, Vera showed she couldn’t have been involved since she had painted her nails right before the “accident” and they weren’t smudged, proving her innocence. I learned one didn’t need a true alibi as long as you could show pristine nails. I wonder what that says about my younger self who filed that particular tidbit away as the main take-away from that book.
Ha, Jo–“incest-fest”, perfectly coined description for most of her work! It was funny to me that later on most of the couples who thought they were related turned out not to be, because that somehow makes it all OK (?!?), except for Heaven who had fun with her uncle. Chris and Cathy broke the mold, though, because where can you really go after THAT?
V.C. Andrews: exposing young, impressionable minds to inappropriate things since 1979.
The nail polish alibi is priceless!
Oh MAN, I’m so glad you did this one! Boy do I remember MSA. When I was 12/13, my best friend was hugely into these books, so I got her this one for Christmas or something. I read it and was scarred for life. Your recap is even crazier than I remember…
LOL, it was much crazier than I had anticipated it being! Like I said, I have no idea how any impressionable teenagers managed to slog through it!
I never understood that weak “Audrina will freak out because the cat’s male” excuse for removing it.
The cover art’s ahead of its time with that hair color.
The Wikipedia entry on the book is suitably insane and has many parentheticals about every characters hair!