V. C. ANDREWS AND THE SECRET LIFE OF GIRLS
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of V. C. Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic, the best-selling novel about incest, imprisoned children, and very, very bad parenting. Andrews went on to write six more books, each one beloved by millions of readers, mostly young women, and each a play on the same themes that made Flowers wonderful and unique: lust, violence, and pain. For two generations now, a private ritual of female adolescence has been reading Andrews’s spine-creased paperbacks, often passed down from an older, wiser girl with the whispered promise of secret knowledge hidden between the covers.
But despite her popularity, almost nothing has been published on Andrews. While gallons of ink have been spilled over genre novelists Philip K. Dick and Jim Thompson, the sum total of book-length Andrewsiana consists of one guide for the library market, one bibliographic checklist, and one mass-market trivia book. It’s hard to imagine another writer in the same peculiar position.
You could argue that Andrews’s books are so unusual and original that critics, scholars, and other “serious” readers don’t know what to do with them. Though there’s an obvious debt to the Brontë sisters, nineteenth-century sensation novels like Lady Audley’s Secret, and Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic fiction, at heart Andrews’s novels have little in common with the genres where they ought to fit. They’re too offbeat for romance, too slow to qualify as thrillers, too explicit for Gothic, and far too dark and complex for young adult. Many booksellers shelve them with horror, but Andrews’s concerns with family, emotion, and relationships put her books firmly outside the genre. Although the supernatural makes brief appearances in Andrews’s work, her largest topic is the all-too-natural tragedy of families gone wrong.
Ultimately, Andrews’s novels constitute their own genre, in which secrets, lies, desire, and moral corruption all stem from—and are contained in—the family. In her world, parents starve their children, sister and brother become husband and wife, and grandparents punish grandchildren for being “devil’s spawn.” No one is to be trusted, and few adults are who they claim to be. Most significantly, there are no happy endings. For all their teen-girl fantasy elements, the books are also gritty, raw, and extremely dirty. There is little cynical or formulaic about them. If anything, they are too raw, too revealing of the author’s own obsessions—which, as we’ll see, might be exactly why no one ever talks about them.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.