Posts tagged ‘Suburbia’

April 20, 2011

through the keyhole

by karolinawaclawiak

I came to know V.C. Andrews at a young age. Eight years old, actually.

My sister, five years older, was always a voracious reader. She brought Flowers in the Attic into our house clandestinely, from a friend. Or, perhaps she used her babysitting money to buy it at the grocery store from one of those spiral racks of paperbacks. I’m not sure.

All I know is that my sister treated the book like a secret and naturally I wanted in on it. I usually snuck into her room to read her diary and when I saw the book in its place, I knew it had to be something good.

The book’s keyhole cover was unlike anything I had ever seen. What was this ghostly girl’s face doing locked behind that attic window? Opening the front cover led to an even more shocking discovery. There were other ghost-faced children lurking behind the cover of the house. All in white, they looked dead to me. Powdery and frightened and beautiful. These were the four siblings, Cathy, Chris, Carrie and Cory, who spawned the Dollanganger series.

I was so enamored with the heroine Cathy that I used to sneak into my sister’s room and stare at her for hours. I wanted to be her, with her hair parted down the middle and perfect nose. I didn’t even want to open the book and read. The cover was enough.

The oldest brother, Chris, had a protective stare that made me fall for him immediately … years before I knew that Cathy had fallen for him too. I asked my mother to do my hair like little Carrie’s, pinned back on both sides with barrettes and she did without question. Cory looked like he could be my twin. I belonged with them. I was blonde too!

Flowers in the Attic was my first foray into the world of the Dollangangers and I didn’t even know V.C. Andrews’ version of their story until a few years later. I had constructed my own narrative for these children and let it play on a film reel in my mind day in and day out. They were mysterious while the other children in my suburban landscape seemed ordinary and without secrets. I wanted to live in a hush-hush world.

When Petals on the Wind arrived in my sister’s drawer a few weeks later I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This cover was even more sinister! A foreboding flower with crimson petals, three suspended in falling! What could it mean? And what of the two faces in the center of the petals, where the stigma and other reproductive organs of the flower should have been?

I stared at them and recognized her immediately. My Cathy. It had to be her. And Chris? He seemed older and worn. They both did. I hesitated to open the keyhole and then, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I did. I was unprepared for what I saw. Satin ballerina dress. Satin robe. A corpse lying on a bed. Where was Cory? I wasn’t ready to think about it.

They were all colorless and gaunt. What happened? I took notice of how Chris held Cathy’s waist. He was mine, not hers. I felt a tinge of jealousy seeing their closeness and resigned myself to heartbreak in my own version of their story.

More books followed and in I snuck, bringing them into my closet with a tiny desk lamp, and locking myself in to daydream about this family and their secrets. If There Be Thorns with its prickly flower and little lost boy staring out at me. Seeds of Yesterday with another flaxen-haired girl looking at me with an attitude among scores of what I believed were grapes. Inside, Cathy and Chris were old, a new guard of terrifying children surrounding them.

photo courtesy of araik91

I devoured cover after cover until I decided to break the spell and read them myself. It was a different story than what I had constructed and my pre-teen brain couldn’t comprehend what I was reading. A mother starving her children? Incest? Torture?

I was too shy to ask my sister about any of it. What If I was misreading? I would implicate myself in some kind of perversion and have to spend longer hours in confession. I would finally have something more sinister to confess than the standard sin I had been using for years – being a liar. No one could find out about this. I couldn’t fathom that my sister had spent so much time reading these books and didn’t know what was going on inside of them. I looked at her with a new kind of suspicion. I looked at her like she knew everything and I was still a child.

I even went so far as to convince myself that the “V” in V.C. stood for Victor. It was incomprehensible to me that a woman could write such things. Could envision these things! I was always reaching for darkness but didn’t understand the true limitless nature of it until I read this series. It served as a kind of awakening for me. I never thought women could write this kind of violence, inhabit such darkness. We were supposed to nurture, not destroy.

I was wrong and thrilled to have learned that lesson early in life. “V” stood for Virginia and Virginia was fearless in her writing. She helped me embrace my darkness and channel my destructive tendencies onto the page. I can thank her for that now.

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February 17, 2011

So… I fell in love with a sea creature.

by karolinawaclawiak

I want to thank Sara and Megan for letting me into their world. I think you’ll find our brains think alike.

Valentine’s Day got me thinking about the greatest love story ever told. Well, in my opinion, that is. I’ve always needed some darkness to my love stories and this one’s got it. This story has all the hallmarks of a Noir: a perpetually morose wife on the verge, a philandering husband, post-war suburban streets lined with palm trees… and a dashing crocodilian sea creature on the loose.

Can’t imagine it? Rachel Ingalls has envisioned it for you in Mrs. Caliban. Dorothy simmers with the slow burn usually found in a marriage with the gaping holes of selfish husbands and dead children. Ingalls has the prim front lawn, but infuses the standard conventions with the fantastic when she introduces Larry, a sea creature that is more caring and thinking than any of the other characters running through these pages. I knew I had a problem when I started thinking, God, Larry is just amazing. He’s so honest and secure. She’s so lucky. *Swoon*

Let me set you straight. Mrs. Caliban is not a dabble your toe in sea creature/human female relations kind of book. This is sea creature sex by page 33 kind of fearless writing. Ingalls ratchets the tension in early pages, dropping hints of what’s to come and does it effortlessly, so when Larry finally arrives I’m begging him to save Dorothy from herself.

Let me just add… he loves smelling night flowers. Amazing.

But back to the sex. Right before taking off Dorothy’s bathrobe, Larry utters words to Dorothy that create havoc on my brain receptors –

“Before…There was nothing. Now there’s everything. I could do things. Couldn’t I? You wouldn’t prevent me?”

He’s talking about many things, including his escape from captivity, but the feeling belongs as much to the newly restored Dorothy as it does to Larry. I can’t help feeling it belongs to all of us. What an exciting feeling to be awoken after a long sleep with the possibility of… possibilities! Escape! No boundaries. How refreshing. How rare. How fleeting.

I won’t give away the rest of the book, because I want you to feel that sense of awe that I felt when entering Mrs. Caliban’s world.

Instead, let Larry lead you to salvation and for God’s sake cover your eyes! You know what happens in Noir.