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…