I should be cleaning the house during the snowpocalyse (we got an inch here – but Friday the Water peeps did call and say to keep the faucets dripping so the pipes don’t freeze. And how is sweet is that?) Instead I spent the day reading, and one of the things I read, rather reread, was Flowers In The Attic. Go ahead click your tongue, judge me, I don’t care. I and the 40 million eighth graders who first bought this book, can’t be wrong.
Unlike other writers, I really didn’t read above my age group as a child. When my best friend Valerie, who was way more mature than I, shoved Flowers in my hands and hissed, “You have to read this”, I was still deeply into Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Occasionally I would dip my toe into some Judy Blume or Narnia, but never had I peeked at anything like it.
First, the cover was shiny, really shiny. And little Carrie there? I wore my hair just like hers. The sinister man in the back ready to put the grab on those blondies? Looking at him now, could be John Kerry, could be Mitt Romney depending on your political leanings. It could be John Forsythe too, tell me the Carringtons wouldn’t lock a “problem” in the attic.
And this was printed on the back:
There was nothing like that in Nancy Drew and The Secret In The Old Attic.
Valerie had gotten the book from her sister Cindy who was a high schooler and said it was too dirty for Val or me, for that matter, to read. Which is exactly why Val read it, and then lent it on the sly to me. I read in a Saturday, and middle school me was scandalized. Not only was there sex, it was incest sex, there was murder and just general horriblness that I would later learn were the tropes of gothic novels, a genre I grew to love. I was hooked.
So when I saw it was going to be a Lifetime movie, you know how I love Lifetime movies, and it had a pretty good cast, I’m in. In fact, I went back to read the original book just to see if it was as shocking as I remembered it being.
The answer, not so much. The first thing I noticed, the dialog is clunky, like something running on square wheels. It gets there, but sometimes it’s painful. There is an excessive use of the word “for” as in “no one will get trapped in a trunk again, for I have broken all the locks.” “For” is all over the place. I noticed this with another writer and I came to the conclusion that perhaps people who are rich enough to have big old houses that have attics and wings big enough to hide family members, might speak a little differently than me. Secondly, it’s not nearly as smutty as I remember. Sure there is the taboo element but I think that it kinda proved something horror writers and movie makers have always known, the thought of the monster, the monster you create in your mind is always more terrifying than what is brought forth on the page, or is presented on the screen. The implied filthiness in my head was way worse than what was on the page. Or I could have just been a smutty headed kid.
The other thing? How was this never made into a Disney movie? It has all the elements, one parent is dead, the other is horrible, and kids have to escape a castle to find happiness. Sure you have to take out the brother sister thing, but other than that it’s got some of the classics in there.
All of that makes it sound like I’m making fun of the book, and I guess I am, but the truth is, I read it all in one day just like I did when Val put it in my hands, and parts that I glossed over as a kid carried extra weight and seemed even more frightening than it did then. When I finished I was ready to get a copy of Petals On The Wind to keep the crazy going.
Flowers was the first “grown up”book I read. And like my first kiss, it wasn’t the best – but being the first does make it special. I don’t know that I would have found books, great books that I love, books like Dragonwyck, Rebecca, We Have Always Lived In A Castle, The Historian, The Thirteenth Tale, etc … without it. I’ve learned that I love books that have a little “what the heck is going on in the attic” element to them, and one day I’d like to write one.
So what brought this dip into all things gothy on? My Mother saw the trailer for Lifetime too, she said “Hey, didn’t you read that in high school?” I told her it was actually middle school and she invited me over to watch it with her.
She has no idea of what she is in for, and just at the right moment, during a commercial break I’m going to make us a little snack tray of powdered donuts.