Friday, October 2, 2009

V.C. Andrews, Teen-girl-lit and The Meaning Of Horror

I am not doing a good job of keeping this blog focused on music and technology.

In the current issue of The Believer, Sara Gran and Megan Abbott write about V. C. Andrews, author of Flowers In The Attic and most of its sequels. In Dark Family: V. C. Andrews And The Secret Life Of Girls, Gran and Abbott ask why Andrews' books were (and are) so rarely reviewed, surveyed or analyzed given their commercial success. Two of the reasons they give are that the books are most popular and associated with early teen girls and that "For all their teen-girl fantasy elements, the books are also gritty, raw, and extremely dirty."

The second reason would not stand if it were not for the first. The reverse is also true. "Raw," "gritty" and "dirty" aren't problematic in a crime novel marketed to adult men. It's only a problem if the book is in the hands of someone who's innocence you are concerned about. Or, more to the point, someone who's innocence you have idealized.

Gran and Abbot's analysis of the books brought back a memory.

I remember being an adolescent boy and seeing my female classmates reading V. C. Andrews. I still have never read any of her books so then, as now, I only knew them by reputation. Child abuse, neglect, incest, imprisonment in the home...pretty nasty stuff, even for a boy who liked his science fiction to have a body count.

The girls who were reading Andrews seemed to take pride in it. The air of mystery around the books added to the mystique junior high boys see in junior high girls. What did they know that we did not and how in the world could it make this type of horror palatable? Why could they "take it" when we didn't even like to look at the covers of these books? And what in the world made it OK for them to read it? Wasn't it kind of like pornography if it had weird sex in it?

The only insight I have is that these girls did know something we did not. They knew that this type of horror, horror within a family and between those who should love one another, was entirely real. Some of them had probably experienced some for themselves.

Here they had it in a manageable form--a book that could be closed--and a woman's voice. The boys were scared to read it, even more so than Are You There God It's Me Margaret, so they embraced the horror and enjoyed our fear.

For once the tables were turned. The 90% of us who were heterosexual were lusting after them more than ever and they could have cared less about us. This perverse series of books made it all the more maddening for us and, I assume, sweeter for them.

Soon, after our voices changed and we got cars, we boys would go back to silencing our female classmates and start trying to get them to go to slasher movies with is. By then everyone of us, male or female, who was going to read Flowers In The Attic had. None of us were innocent anymore and the boys, now fancying ourselves as men, had the upper hand again.

I hope the girls enjoyed those books while they could.

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