I just ran across an internet blurb advertising a remake of Flowers in the Attic for the Lifetime Network, scheduled to be broadcast in early January. Anyone from my generation (I’ll let you do the math) remembers the risque novels, and iconic covers by V.C Andrews. They were staples of junior high reading.
A few months back I ran across an dog-eared copy of FITA on a Goodwill bookshelf. Examining the cover I was reminded how FITA covers were visual crack to us back then. There was a weird thrill to those covers. No other pulp fiction on the paperback racks had the die-cut, two-for-one covers. The trick was the outer cover was dark, and simplistic (I can never find a picture of that cover). The second cover was radiant with the Dollaganger dolls trapped in the attic, complete with terrifying-looking grandparents. It’s hard to convey just how that could be such marketing genius, but it was.
That day at the thrift store I bought the book, took it home and immediately started reading it. It’s an icky book, and I’m not talking about the incest. It’s so sugary sweet. Everyone is so perfect, soo beautiful, sooo smart, soooo tragic…pure camp, and a large part of it’s appeal. As a kid, a tomboy at that, the descriptions of beautiful people, clothes, hair, nails, etc. somehow worked it’s magic on me. You’ve never read so many descriptions of long, blonde hair in your life! (V.C. Andrews should of been a copywriter for Revlon.) It did succeed in transporting me to an impossibly beautiful world, much like the soapy hallmarks of 1980’s entertainment Dallas, and especially Dynasty. It’s a lush, glamorous side of the story that I don’t remember the film makers capturing in the 1987 movie.
So what’s FITA’s appeal? The cover? Check. The title was supposedly suggested by a publisher… check. And then?A fair amount revolves around puberty, and the mystery of sexuality, which I suspect was a large part of it’s appeal for girls my age. But incest? As a kid I was so appalled I never read the entire book. Instead hopping around, avoiding the yucky parts, and well the boredom. Because, adding to the mystery of its appeal, FITA moves at a snail’s pace. After all the kids are locked-up in an attic, with not much to do. One critic wrote that this is the true torture of the book. (Irony not intended.) The children are starved for affection, attention, and something to do. Was V.C Andrew an extraordinary writer? At the right time at the right place? Surfing the zeitgeist? Or was it all just a result of clever publicity?
For an exhaustive study on the subject I recommend: