So last night I was working out and put on Lifetime on the TV (Pretty Woman was playing). And while I was there I was LUCKY enough to see several airings of the latest trailer for the Lifetime adaptation of Flowers in the Attic, which is airing next month (YAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY). I hung out with Lori last week and we discussed this AT LENGTH--I am a huge fan of the series and know this book pretty much by heart. It is one of my treasured guilty pleasures from my teens and college years. For those who have never read it, it's about a beautiful family called the Dollangangers who go to live with the mother's parents in Virginia when the father dies. When they get there the mother, Corrine, tells the kids (a son of 14, Christopher, a daughter of 12, Cathy, and twins Cory and Carrie who are 5) that they will have to be hidden "for a little while" up in the attic until they break the news to the grandfather that the prodigal daughter has returned (she eloped with her now-dead husband who was in fact her half-uncle). The "little while" stretches on and on into years--and meanwhile the grandmother, who hates the children as products of an incestuous marriage, is violently abusive. She whips them, she puts tar into Cathy's hair as punishment for what she deems vanity, she starves them. Eventually it becomes clear that Corrine just doesn't care about them anymore, certainly not in comparison to the enormous inheritance that awaits her if she can win back her father, and they start to plan an escape. All this while Chris and Cathy are growing up, entering puberty, and the only person of the opposite sex they see is each other...
The book is usually dismissed as teenage trash, and sometimes compared to Twilight. Look, I love me some Twilight but FitA is far, FAR superior. For one thing there is actual character development--Corrine, Cathy and Chris change and grow (or devolve in Corrine's case) very much throughout the book. Chris and Cathy are scarred and changed by the end of the book--in fact Cathy reenacts the events in the attic, relives these issues again and again throughout the rest of the series. [SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT: The grandmother starts poisoning them with donuts--Cory, the sickly one, ends up dying [Corrine and the grandmother's callousness is truly horrific in this scene] and Chris rapes Cathy but she forgives him. The three left alive escape at the end of the book after finding out the grandfather has been dead for a long time--therefore there was no need to keep them locked up other than to protect Corrine's inheritance.] Chris is in some ways even harder hit because he truly cannot love anyone else after they leave the attic--Cathy is the ONLY one he can love. Similarly Carrie is terribly scarred and ends up killing herself with a bite from a poisoned donut, so she can die the same way her beloved twin did. There is a tragic quality to the saga that is ignored I think because of its core audience (teenage girls) and because the narrative voice is so girly and colloquial. It's also fascinating to read how carefully Andrews charts Chris and Cathy's growing attraction to each other--it is very, very subtly done. At first they are play-parents to the twins and he is her knight in shining armor. And very, very gradually he starts to notice her and she him--because there is no one else. There's a scene after they are both whipped--Cathy passes out from the pain and she wakes up in his arms. They cuddle together and he caresses her, starts to kiss her and she stops him.That night I went to sleep after thinking of his kiss, and not the whipping or the blows from the brush. Swelling up in both of us was a turmoil of whirling emotions. Something sleeping deep inside of me had awakened, quickened, just as Aurora until the Prince came to put on her quiet lips a long lover's kiss.
That was the way of all fairy tales--ending with the kiss, and the happy-ever-after. There had to be some other prince for me to bring about a happy ending.
I was telling Lori how my sophomore year in college we had an extended period of snow--we even had a snow day which was rare for that area. So I was stuck inside quite a bit and feeling *extremely* claustrophobic. Sweet Briar, my alma mater, is in a rural section of Virginia (LIKE FOXWORTH HALL), in the piedmont area, and there is a train nearby which I used to hear at night (LIKE CHRIS AND CATHY USED TO HEAR). One day I was so sick of snow and ice that I drew flowers--roses and tulips and so forth--onto paper and then outlined them with colored yarn and put that up on my dorm walls (JUST LIKE HOW CHRIS, CATHY AND THE TWINS DECORATED THEIR ATTIC WITH PAPER FLOWERS). It hit me--I'm in Virginia, in the country, there's a train nearby, I HAVE LONG BLONDE HAIR AND MY NAME BEGINS WITH C OH MY GOOOOOODDDDDDDDD
....So yeah, I had a great affection for Catherine and her messed-up story.
Here is an hilarious take on my beloved book:He Ain't Sexy, He's My Brother
Okay, back to Lifetime. Now by and large I am happy with the casting--Heather Graham seems dead-on for Corrine, Ellen Burstyn is gonna knock it out of the park as the grandmother and the kid who's playing Chris looks good as well. I am a little concerned about Kiernan Shipka as Cathy though. Shipka, while a fine young actor, is a *character* actor--at least that's how she comes off to me. You need a young leading lady type for Cathy--you need that grace and coltish elegance because she is very much a younger version of her mother (this point is made many times in the book). Think young Natalie Portman (but blonde of course). Or Amanda Seyfried, if she can pull of the fiestiness (Cathy is the only one of the four who calls Corrine on her shit, Chris is far too busy working out his Oedipus complex).
And it is ESSENTIAL that Cathy have LONG BLONDE HAIR--Chris loves her hair, and when the grandmother puts tar on it, he slaves for a day to get the tar off. That's part of how they become closer! And later on they have a conversation about her hair, about how beautiful it is, how he thinks she might have on her head the most beautiful hair in the world--it's as much a character in the book as Janie's in Their Eyes Were Watching God! The four siblings look exactly alike, perfect, fair and blonde--like Dresden dolls, as they're called by the neighbors (and of course the fact that they're inbred contributes to that).
And there's a scene where Cathy sneaks into their mother's bedroom to steal money for their escape and stumbles upon their new stepfather who is dozing. She gazes upon him and then kisses him--and it transpires later that he was only half-asleep, remembered the kiss and thought he was dreaming. [And if you're going to stay faithful to the book you *have* to have this scene as it leads directly to Chris flipping out from jealousy and raping Cathy.] The stepfather remembers her as a kind of princess, looking longingly at him and from the footage I've seen, Shipka has short, light brown hair. She's adorable as Sally in Mad Men but I don't see her as Cathy--YET. I will absolutely keep an open mind because I really want this version to be great. [We're all still recovering from the 1987 debacle--that movie was so terrible, I literally forgot about huge chunks of it after seeing it. Oh GOD was it terrible.