Book Two of the Dollanganger series, preceded by Flowers in the Attic and followed by If There be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows.
My Thoughts on Petals on the Wind by V. C. Andrews
Once again, as with anything written by V. C. Andrews, SPOILERS AHEAD.
I repeat . . . SPOILERS AHEAD.
With that out of the way, yes - - this review is late. Because, well, reasons. "Reasons" is an adequate explanation for anything going on in a V. C. Andrews book so therefore it's a perfectly adequate explanation for my delayed review.
If you read my review of Flowers in the Attic (and if you haven't, why on earth not?) you will know that my opinion is that Flowers is a creepy book. Addictive and a ferociously guilty pleasure but creepy. Ms. Andrews has thrown caution to the wind (no pun intended) and bypassed creepy entirely to go full on BSC with Petals. Yay?
I loved this book when I was a teen. It was my favorite in the series and God knows how many times I must have read it. While I realized how inherently wrong the relationship between Cathy and Chris was (good), I never realized that every single man in this book commits rape (bad). Okay, Chris did it in Flowers and neither Julian's father nor Alex did (to our knowledge) but you get my point. Clearly Cathy's taste in men was highly suspect and girlfriend should have been in intensive therapy instead of running around in ballet slippers and attempting to seduce their guardian/benefactor Paul. But that wouldn't make for a good story, would it?
So Cathy, Chris and Carrie have finally run away from that damn Foxworth Hall and are headed on a bus to Florida where the two eldest Dollangangers figure they can join the circus. No, really. But Carrie, as per usual, jacks up their plans when her arsenic-infested body goes haywire and the insensitive and rude fellow passengers don't want a tiny child with a huge head vomiting all over their bus. Lucky day! A big fat woman, who Cathy never tires of telling us is big and fat, is on the bus and her "doctor son" can help. Enter Paul Sheffield, who will become the trio's legal guardian, Cathy's lover, Cathy's much put-upon slave and eventually Cathy's husband when she has exhausted all other options. In that order. As luck would have it and by an amazing coincidence, Dr. Paul lives very close to the hometown of the trio's stepfather, the dark and infamous Bart Winslow. This will be very handy when Cathy gets to scheming on how to get back at her mother because, after all, the main purpose of Cathy's life at this point is revenge.
The first half of Petals is all about how the Dollangangers fare in South Carolina and how Cathy, with her magical hair and general ability to be irresistable, drives every man she knows crazy. She's not in Dr. Paul's home for more than a month, it seems, before she's decided that goal number one is to seduce him. Because, reasons. Of course in between that she's leading Chris on and then shutting him down and then participating in a mild flirtation with fellow dancer (and future rapist) Julian Marquet. Girl is making up for lost time in that attic. Chris goes off to college, blah, blah, blah. Carrie goes off to a boarding school until she doesn't, blah, blah, blah. In case you don't know, this book is all about Cathy and what's important to Cathy. Which is her stunning hair, her amazing looks, dancing, sexing up her legal guardian and revenge.
Sadly, the revenge part is put on a back burner while she seduces and dances and then just screws up her life for a while. We find out that Dr. Paul's wife killed their son and then attempted to kill herself because Dr. Paul wanted sex and she didn't, or something. We find out that Dr. Paul raped her (rapist alert!) but that's somehow okay because they were married and Cathy would never treat her husband so poorly that he would resort to that (just wait a few years). Or something. It's hard to get very offended because very soon afterward, she and Paul are doing the deed. She is seventeen after all so that makes it okay in Andrews land. Dr. Paul is forty-two, as Cathy informs us, and ewwww. Somehow when reading this book as a teen I didn't realize how gross that was. He may have been a doctor but he should have been in prison.
So . . . she dances and they have sex and they lie to Chris and Carrie doesn't grow and Cathy starts becoming almost famous while dancing with Julian, who is madly in love with her (of course) and Cathy and Paul get engaged and then Paul's sister lies and Cathy gets upset and marries Julian because that seems the logical response. At least to our girl Cathy. Once she realizes her mistake, she can't possibly get a divorce because no one gets a divorce in V. C. Andrews land and lives happily. Maybe. But really we need to keep the DRAMA going. Paul has the sads and then tells Cathy he'll always have his memories or something stupid like that (codependent alert!) while Chris is angry because he's going to be angry no matter who Cathy loves or marries (codependent alert!). Again, therapy. Try it, kids.
So then Julian and Cathy dance and they are fantastic and they are married, blah, blah, blah. Cathy informs us that sometimes Julian rapes her, like it's the norm. In Cathy's world, I suppose it is. She also mentions that Julian cheats on her and has a yen for young girls. Again, the norm in her world and again, a clear red flag that girlfriend is in desperate need of a good therapist. Chris graduates from college and medical school and he is completely brilliant. Of course he is. He also still carries a major torch for Cathy and makes it clear that there will never be another woman for him but his sister (codependent alert!). Ewwww.
So Cathy gets knocked up, Julian dies and she decides that she can no longer dance without him. Umm, what? This literally makes no sense. All Cathy thought about at one point was becoming the most famous and best prima ballerina in the world and when the husband who abuses her and cheats on her dies because of stupidity, she's going to quit? I object, Ms. Andrews!
Cathy has her son, she names him Jory and reminds us over and over again about her "small son." Whatever. I read (or listen) to this book for the wonderful smut not for rhapsodies on motherhood. Both Paul and Chris are fighting to be Jory's father and win the fair Cathy's hand. Naturally. Cathy being Cathy decides that now is a great time to really kick the revenge plan into play since she's not being hampered by a husband. No, only a kid. So she packs up Carrie and moves all three of them to the Foxworth Hall area, telling Paul "catch you later if this doesn't work out." Paul, being Paul, basically tells her that he'll wait around until she gets all this revenge and sexing up her stepfather out of her system. Yeah, this is going to end well.
She runs into her mother's hubby, the infamous Bart Winslow. She gets him hot and bothered. Magic hair and all. Carrie meanwhile meets Alex and Cathy tells us how so not special he is but it's okay because Carrie needs someone. Only Cathy gets the really hot and sexy men, ya'll. Poor Carrie.
As is the norm in a V.C. Andrews book, Carrie and Alex fall in love in under a month and he decides he wants to marry her. However, problems! Alex wants to be a minister and thanks to the Grandmother's rabid religious behavior and brutal comments to the children, Carrie believes herself unfit to be a minister's wife. Devil's spawn and all. Oh and she tells Cathy that when Julian was alive he molested her (rapist alert!). Cathy should so not be shocked given that she knew Julian preferred young girls, he raped his own wife and yet she would still leave him alone with her sister? Personally I hate it when events are divulged to us many years (or pages) later. It feels like a cheat.
Cathy, being self-obsessed, misses the signs that Carrie is poisoning herself and sadness, Carrie dies the same way Cory did via arsenic on doughnuts. Cathy being Cathy realizes that now her mother must really pay and instigates an affair with her own stepfather who, you guessed it, rapes her. (rapist alert!). You or I would call the cops pronto but not our Cathy. Nope. She falls in love with him. Of course she does. She also manages to get knocked up because if you're going to make your mother pay, nothing works as well as getting impregnated by your mother's husband.
Meantime, Cathy steals back into Foxworth Hall with the wooden key Chris made years ago (again - - no explanation how Cathy got this key. Hate it.) and whips the now-bedridden and unable to speak Grandmother and drips candle wax on her hair. Then she cries about it, runs home and decides to enact her grand revenge on Christmas during the annual Foxworth Hall party.
Henny, the big, fat lady who saved the kids on the bus many years ago, is ill and dying but Cathy can't be bothered because priorities. She feels sad but only for a quick minute because embarrassing your mother in front of her friends is so much more rewarding. She goes to Foxworth Hall on Christmas, pokes around, revisits the attic, cries, gets frightened by flickering candles, may or may not discover a secret room (more on this in a minute) and then waits for midnight to make her grand entrance. She busts in, announces who she is, spills about the attic incarceration, there is shock and awe and she is dragged into the library with Bart, her mother and the Grandmother. Chris shows up (convenient) because Paul had a heart attack trying to help Henny and figured his sister would be over at Foxwall Hall, ruining her life. Good guess,Chris. Their mother admits that they are her children to Bart. Bart is pissed. Cathy tells her mother she found the secret room and noticed a gross smell like a decomposing body and suggests that is where Cory was laid to rest and not in some unmarked grave. Poor Cory. Their mother basically freaks out and loses her mind and runs off screaming like in any good gothic novel. Next thing you know - - fire!
Foxworth Hall burns to the ground, along with the Grandmother and Bart Winslow. Cathy and Chris' mother gets shipped off to a mental institution. Cathy returns to South Carolina and marries Paul because everyone else has died. Chris lives with them because . . . really, I don't know why because he's a doctor and can surely afford his own place but it's not like these people have ever been mentally healthy. Cathy has Bart's son, who we will find out in the next book is a holy terror. I think this may be what's known as karma. Cathy tells us that she and Paul have had a sexless marriage for three years. Blah, blah, blah.
Paul dies but not before telling Cathy that once he kicks off, she should just go ahead and be with Chris because he's waited a long time. Cathy does realize there are lots of people in the world, right? I mean, you have more choices than just people you are related to and/or that you met before you were eighteen. But Cathy is Cathy so once she has been widowed (again), she and Chris pack up her kids and head to California as Mr. and Mrs. So Chris wins in the end and Cathy has terrible luck with men.
Hmmm, I didn't intend to recap the entire book but now that I have, this book really is BSC. Cathy would be the dartboard for any feminist movement. Good Lord, that woman simply cannot be without a man. Guardian, brother, co-worker, stepfather . . . irrelevant! And Chris - - he's just going to abandon his practice in South Carolina to go west? Really, I guess he and Paul are very similar. They are both painfully codependent with Cathy and will just wait around forever for her to glance their way. Paul had to suffer a heart attack and be unable to perform before she married him and Chris had to wait until every other man in her life dropped dead. Wouldn't exactly be a dream of mine. Seriously though, Cathy needs to write a book about how to catch and keep a man because girl has the 4-1-1 on that.
But! It's a V.C. Andrews book so I think we're supposed to be happy for Chris and Cathy at the end and think that true love won out even though it's sibling true love. Or something ridiculous like that.
A lot happens in Petals and a good fifteen years passes throughout the course of the book. At least we get out of the attic and meet some new people. Cathy does continue to make really shitty judgment calls and painful mistakes but, heck, I still love this book. All the males, except maybe Jory, are absolute hot messes but he's only seven at the end of the book so give him time. Sequels are coming. That said, Petals is addictive reading, much like irs predecessor. Despite Cathy not acting like anyone I've ever known, I still have a soft spot for her and for Chris and for Carrie. I actually liked Carrie in this book and she had to go off and die. Damn.
Alyssa Bresnahan returns to narrate Petals and does a fine job. The best parts for me were when Carrie finally got old enough to stop speaking in that annoying childish tone but I'm shallow like that. Unfortunately, Jory would (somewhat) pick it up.
Regardless, it's a solid audiobook and a satisfying way to spend your commute - - particularly if you're an Andrews fan and/or have read Flowers. Or are maybe reliving your adolescence in a horrifying literary style. There is some sense of closure at the end although have no fear! If There Be Thorns will follow and we will all wish that Cathy had practiced birth control with Bart Winslow and that Jory would just run away and save himself from this mess.
FTC Disclosure: This audiobook is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated for this review. You're welcome.