September 15, 2014

Author Interview: RANDY SUSAN MEYERS

Today I'm excited and honored to welcome Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Comfort of Lies, The Murderer's Daughters and the newly released Accidents of Marriage, to Psychotic State Book Reviews.



Can you tell us a bit about the book and the relationship between the characters?

Accidents of Marriage asks what is the toll of emotional abuse on a family. It’s an account of life inside a marriage that seems fine to the outside world, an account of emotional abuse, traumatic injury, and how a seeming accident is really the culmination of years of ignored trouble. It’s the story of an unexpected gift of clarity making the difference between living in hell and salvation.

For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband Ben is her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant, handsome and charming, Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker Maddy was never sure what would cross him. She kept a fragile peace by vacillating between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their three children, until a rainy drive to work when Ben’s temper gets the best of him, and the consequences leave Maddy in the hospital, fighting for her life.

Accidents of Marriage, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Emma, takes us up close into the relationships between all family members. The children, lost in the shuffle, grasp for sources of comfort, including the (to them) mysterious traditions of their Jewish and Catholic grandparents. Emma and her grandparents provide the only stability for the younger children when their mother is in the hospital. Ben alternates between guilt and glimmers of his need to change, and Maddy is simply trying to live.  Accidents of Marriage reveals the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

How many different titles did you experiment with before deciding on Accidents of Marriage?

My first working title was A Thousand Suppers (which comes from a line in the book, but ultimately made no sense out of context.) The title I used when I presented it to my editor was simply Maddy & Ben. After many long sessions with poetry books, anagrams of words, and other methods that I use, I came up with Accidents of Marriage.

How has working with batterers and victims of domestic violence influenced your writings?

Working with batterers taught me far more than I can put in a paragraph, but here is my version of the most important take-away: Never underestimate the hatred some men have of women. Never think that people (other than the truly damaged)  ‘snap’. If they chose to find it, people can access at least a sliver of decision-making. We have agency. We do not choose to hit and scream at our bosses. We choose to hit and scream at people in our homes. The hierarchy of power always comes into play.

Women (and men) do not choose abusive people as their loves—they pick the charming folks they meet in the beginning of a relationship. There might be signs to look out for, but abusers keep those traits in check until the relationship has solidified, when breaking up is more difficult.

There is not a black and white line between being abusive and not being abusive. There is a continuum of behavior, and most of us fall on the wrong side of the best behavior at some point—whether is be yelling, silent treatment, or some other hurtful conduct. Learning that this can be controlled is a job for everyone.

Batterers can change; we can all change our behaviors, but most often we choose not to do the difficult work that change requires. This is something I hope I bring to my writing.

Can you discuss the role of Maddy and Ben’s daughter in the book?

Emma is an average teenager who is thrown into very un-average circumstances. She becomes the stand-in mother, a role she takes on without credit or even being noticed. She is also the keeper of secrets, an impossible position for her to take on. In every stage of her family’s trauma, she is the silent absorber, who ultimately will break or find strength.

How did you portray someone with a traumatic brain injury so well?

I did an enormous amount of study. Luckily I find medical research fascinating. My shelves are crammed with memoirs of those with TBI and caretakers of those with TBI, workbooks for those with TBI, and medical texts—as well as spending time on line reading medical information for those in the field and information for those affected by brain injury. I had someone in the field read the novel and am also lucky enough to have a doctor in my writer’s group.

Did you have any say in choosing the cover for the book?

Yes! The final cover was the fourth one presented. It was tough finding the right ‘mood’ for the cover, but I was very pleased with the final version. Of course, most authors (including me) would love to actually design the cover, but my guess is our final products would not be the graphic success we imagine.

What made you choose a car crash as the tragic turning point between Ben and Maddy?

Abusive and bullying behavior very often plays out in driving. Road rage is a real problem on our motorways and seemed the logical vehicle for demonstrating how Ben’s bad choices result in devastating consequences.

Parts of this story make the reader begin to empathize with Ben. Why did you choose to do this?

I don’t believe books that present characters as all good or all bad can adequately capture life’s totality or experiences. It’s important for me to tap into how we are all the stars of our own show and how we often convince ourselves why it is ‘okay’ to act in awful ways.  Ben is not all bad, despite doing awful and bad things. The question I explore about Ben (among others) is can he change? Is he, are we, capable of change, and if so, how does will and can that change manifest?

Is Maddy modeled after anyone that you know?

Maddy is modeled after about a thousand people I know—including myself and my friends and family. Most of us have some Maddy in us, at least at some point. We close our eyes to the worst, or we use drugs or alcohol or food or something else to tamp down our feelings. We live in a maelstrom of problems and pretend it’s all okay. We deny and lie to ourselves. Until we can’t anymore.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Accidents of Marriage?

Abusive behavior is wrong, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal or any other type of hurtful behavior. It overwhelms a family. Raising children with verbal and emotional violence is harmful and the ramifications last forever.

Most important, we can control our behavior.

But, most of all, I hope readers take a page-turning story from my book. I don’t write to lecture; I write to tell the stories that mesmerize me, and thus, I hope, fascinate others.

Excerpt from Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers
 
Chapter 1
MADDY
 
Maddy ran her tongue over her teeth, imagining the bitter taste of a crumbling tablet of Xanax. After a gut-wrenching day at the hospital nothing tempted her more than a chemical vacation. Nothing appealed to her less than cooking supper. Churning stomach acid—courtesy of work—coupled with anxiety that Ben might come home as frenzied as he’d left made a formidable appetite killer.
She could bottle it and make a fortune.
Each morning she spun the wheel on the Ben chart, hoping the arrow would hit happy husband, or at least neutral guy. Today his arrow landed on total bastard, holding her personally responsible for Caleb’s tantrum, which—oh, horror!—had cost Ben twenty minutes of work.
 
She considered taking a pill, but the rites of family happiness demanded her attention. Gracie and Caleb sprawled on the rug, recovering from their day at camp: seven-year-old Caleb, half asleep, rubbing his cheek with his thumb; nine-year-old Gracie’s glazed eyes fixed on the television. Emma, her oldest, a day camp counselor at fourteen, would be home soon.
Sluggish inertia kept Maddy stapled to the couch despite her long list of waiting tasks. Chop vegetables, pay the mortgage, and catch up on laundry before the kids ran out of socks. Find a stamp somewhere in the mess she called her desk so she could mail the electric bill. Give her children feelings of self-worth. Plus, since she and Ben had fought that morning, he’d need soothing. Fellatio came to mind.
Indestructible fabric, the sort bought by parents with children prone to transferring their sticky snacks to the upholstery, prickled against her bare arms. She lusted for air-conditioning as she’d once longed for peace, justice, and her husband. Each suffocating Boston summer their badly wired Victorian became more hateful and Ben’s warnings about global warming swayed her less. According to Ben, her environmental ethics turned situational with each drop of perspiration.
Pressing the small of her back didn’t ease the permanent knot lodged deep and low, nor did shoving a small hard pillow against it. Her stomach growled despite her lack of desire for food.
Fish sticks would be easy, but she couldn’t bear turning on the oven.
The back door slammed. Emma banged her backpack on the table. Her daughter’s way of saying I’m home.
 
"Emma?"
"What?"
 
Maddy struggled up from the couch and headed toward the kitchen. "Just making sure it’s you."
"Were you expecting someone else?" she asked.
"It could have been Daddy."
"Right." What an all-purpose word right had become in their family, their polite way of saying, I am acknowledging you have spoken, but am choosing not to engage in any meaningful way. Lately, they used it all too often.
Newspapers they’d tried to read at breakfast covered half the table. Emma stared into the refrigerator as Maddy gathered the papers, unsure whether to recycle them. Had Ben finished reading the Boston Globe? The New York Times?

"There’s nothing to eat," Emma said. "In Caro’s house—"
The sound of breaking glass followed by Caleb’s scream interrupted before Emma could specify just how superior a shopper Caro’s mother was.
"Mom!" Gracie yelled. "Come here!"

Emma followed as Maddy ran to the living room.
"Jesus, what happened?" Maddy crouched next to Caleb, her stomach dropping at the sight of blood pouring from his foot. Shards of glass surrounded him, liquid droplets of milk clinging to the pieces, a larger white puddle pooling on the wooden floor. She grabbed a wadded-up napkin to staunch the blood, crouching awkwardly to avoid cutting her knees.
Gracie’s mouth trembled. "I just got up, that’s all, and I knocked over his milk glass. He got mad and screamed, then he stood up and kicked the glass and it broke. He stepped on it. It wasn’t my fault!"
"It’s okay, Gracie." Blood soaked through the napkin, dissolving the paper as she exerted pressure. "Emma, get me a damp towel."
This was preventable, Ben would say. This is why we have plastic glasses.
"Make it stop, Mommy!" Tears cut through the dirt on Caleb’s cheeks.
She pressed harder. Gracie mopped the spilled milk with a dirty T-shirt from her backpack.
"Here." Emma held out a dripping kitchen towel.
"You need to wring it out, Emma. Never mind, just get a clean one."
Emma stomped out with Gracie in her wake. Wet cloth slapped in the sink.
"Give this to Mom." Emma’s voice from the kitchen was extra loud.
Using the hem of her black cotton skirt, Maddy covered the napkin. Gracie returned with a new towel. Emma watched from the doorway, twirling the bottom of her long brown braid.
Maddy peeled away her skirt and replaced it with the towel, Caleb whimpering. "Do I have to go to the doctor?" He squinted as peeked under the towel. "It doesn’t look too deep, but it has to be cleaned," she said. "I don’t think we need a doctor." Maddy’s pulse calmed. She stopped rushing ahead in her mind: wrapping Caleb’s foot safely enough to hold in the bleeding until they got to the emergency room, packing the kids in the car, calling Ben. She looked again—making sure her decision was based on wisdom and not wishful thinking. It wasn’t gaping. The bleeding had slowed.
He tried to pull his foot away. "No! No cleaning. It’ll hurt."
Emma squatted next to them. "You let Mom wash out the cut and I’ll play Monopoly." Caleb’s smile came through like a sun shower.
"That’s sweet, honey." Maddy should appreciate Emma’s goodness and stop losing patience with her sulks and eye rolling. "Thank you."
"Can I play?" Gracie asked.
"No," said Caleb. "Just me and Emma."
Gracie’s lip quivered at her brother’s words, leaving Maddy torn between soothing and yelling Stop it, especially when she saw Gracie make the tiny sign of the cross she’d picked up from Grandma Frances, Ben’s mother, a woman given to reflexive ritual blessings. Gracie’s gesture unsettled Maddy. Next thing she knew, her daughter would be genuflecting at Our Lady of the Virgins. Buying her a Jewish star or a Unitarian flaming chalice, before Grandma Frances hung a crucifix over Gracie’s bed, went on her to-do list. Mixed marriage only went so far.

"Monopoly is better with more people, Caleb." Pregnant women should be required to take classes in referee and negotiation skills along with breathing and panting lessons.
"No. I only want to play with Emma."
Gracie pulled at her camp-grimy toes. "How about you and I make chocolate sauce while they play?" Maddy suggested. "We could have hot fudge sundaes for supper."
"Ice cream for supper?" Gracie raised her chin off her knees.
"Why not?" She pushed back her daughter’s sweaty black curls, the only visible part of Maddy that Gracie had inherited. The kids divided their parents’ parts and shared few: Skinny Caleb had Ben’s thick brown hair, Maddy’s long lashes and narrow shoulders. Poor Gracie, like Ben, would have to fight a tendency toward getting thick in the middle. Emma, wiry like Maddy, had her father’s sharp cheekbones.
Emma rolled her eyes. "Healthy, Mom."
"Shut up, Emma," Caleb said.
"You shut up. Or I won’t play with you."
"I’ll play," Gracie said.
"No. Emma picked me. Wash my cut, Mommy."
 
***
A child leaned on either shoulder. With feet propped on the coffee table, Maddy drifted in and out of sleep. Dirty bowls decorated with blobs of hardened fudge littered the room. After cresting to a quick high of giggles over supper, they’d slumped into queasy sugar comas.
They stirred at the sound effects of Ben’s nightly return: The car rolling on gravel. Scrape of heat-swollen door opening. Keys dropping on the hall table. Briefcase thudding to the floor. Sighs of relief or disgust indicated his mood level. Despite their early-morning fight, Ben sounded audibly benign. Thank God. Maybe it would be a Swiss night, with the living room their first neutral zone.
Ben entered the living room and surveyed their collapsed bodies and the scattered Monopoly pieces. Gracie pulled away and ran to him, throwing her hands around his waist. He stroked her black ringlets into a little bundle at the back of her head as she leaned into his slightly softening middle. He had the body of a forty-three-year-old man who fought gravity by playing handball twice a week, but who’d given up crunches. Not bad, but unlike Maddy, who ran and used free weights and the rowing machine in their basement, his battle against time brought fewer visible rewards.
"What happened?" he asked. "It looks like a war zone."
"We had some excitement. Our boy cut himself." Caleb held out his bandage-swathed foot while still staring at the television.
"You okay?" Ben asked. He gave Gracie one last pat and went to the couch. "Hurt much?"
Caleb shrugged. "I guess. A little." He studied Maddy as though seeking the right answer.
Ben laid a hand on Caleb’s calf. "Can you walk on it?"
"Sorta. I hop on my heel on that side."
"It’s on the ball of his foot. The inside," Maddy said.
"How’d it happen?" Ben tugged on his chin—his poker tell that steam could build at any moment.
Maddy leaned over Caleb and kissed her husband, hitting the side of his mouth he offered. "Forgetting anything?" she asked. "Hello, Maddy? How are you?"
 
He exhaled. "Don’t start. I’ve had a rough day."
Kissing was starting? It is when you’re being sarcastic, she answered herself, using Ben’s lecture voice. "He fell asleep and then got up without remembering there was a milk glass next to him. It was an accident." She knew the lie was barely plausible, but she also knew it was just enough for him to avoid being prosecutorial.
 
"Where was he sleeping? The recycle bin?"
"Very funny. A glass broke. End of story." There. The truth snuck in.
"Why can’t the kids eat and drink at the table like they’re supposed to? Why weren’t they using plastic glasses?" He ran his hands through his hair. "Look at this place. It’s a mess. No wonder everyone’s always having accidents."
Caleb rubbed his thumb back and forth across his knee. Gracie crossed herself.
"Not now, okay? Please." She sent him a significant look.
Ben flexed his shoulders, leaned back on the couch, and stared at the ceiling. He took a deep breath, seeming to remember the anger management sheet Maddy had forced on him six months ago, after he’d thrown a shoe. At the wall, he insisted each time she mentioned the incident. Not at you. But her message had landed. For once, she’d broken through his endless rejections of her careful observations about his temper.
Good thing. She’d gritted her teeth through his rages, but she’d be damned if their house became a physical battleground. He’d scared himself when he’d thrown the shoe—just as he had years before when he’d thrown a bottle of detergent against the wall. The difference was this time he’d listened to her. He’d read the sheet despite hating it when she supposedly social-worked him. Save it for your clients, he’d yell when she deconstructed him. The children. Their marriage. You’re not my shrink, you’re my wife.
If he didn’t want her to social-work him, then she sure wished he’d learn to manage his own moods. Maddy’s sister insisted that one day it would be too late for anger prevention sheets and other tricks. Vanessa had no patience for Ben’s rages, but Maddy blamed herself for the antagonism her family felt toward Ben. Maddy overshared. Everything negative, anyway. When had she last called her sister to say things were going great? To brag about Ben taking an entire day to make sure Gracie could ride her bike safely? How often did she mention that Ben took the kids to the movies while she went for a massage?
At least her mother pretended to love Ben. For which Maddy was grateful.
"We had ice cream for supper," Caleb announced.
Emma’s shoulders squared. Gracie pressed into Maddy.
Ben turned to Caleb. "Ice cream?"
"With hot fudge," Caleb added.
"Nice to be rewarded for breaking a glass, huh?" Ben kicked off his shoes. "Since I haven’t fallen or broken anything, what do I get for supper?"
Emma jumped up. "Should I make you eggs, Dad?"
"Thank you, honey. That would be terrific." He leaned back and closed his eyes, pushing off his shoes with his toes.
Gracie tapped his forehead. He blinked and gave her a tired smile. "What is it, cupcake?"
"Want me to cut up carrots for you?"
Maddy grabbed the laundry basket from where she’d dropped it in the corner of the living room and hurried out before she had to witness the girls wait on Ben. It drove her crazy watching them being trained in the fine art of placating an angry man, but try explaining that one. What, a child couldn’t feed a hungry father?
After throwing in a white wash and rummaging through the crowded shelves for fabric softener, she dragged over a small dusty step stool and climbed up, stretching to reach behind the jumble of cleaning supplies. She pulled out a dusty baggie that held a few tablets, took out a yellow one, bit off half, and swallowed it dry. Sometimes she wondered if she could remember all of her caches. Keeping them scattered around the house gave her a convoluted sense of peace and safety. She might reach for one pill in a week; she might reach in every day. Either way, knowing that they were never more than a few steps away comforted her.
***
Back in the kitchen, remnants of Ben’s eggs and carrots littered the countertop.
She cleared the debris to one side to make sandwiches for the kids’ lunch boxes. Trying to spread cold peanut butter made her hate Ben’s mother. Frances had spent the past forty-six years appeasing Ben’s father’s neuroses by keeping a spotless house and refrigerating peanut butter, on constant guard against food poisoning, bacteria, and dust.
Because of Frances, they ate hard peanut butter.
The bread tore. She folded it around the wad of Skippy and shoved it in her mouth. Then she got a fresh slice and began making the sandwiches again: grape jelly for Caleb, blueberry for Gracie, and for Emma, Maddy’s mother’s homemade orange preserves.
Anger exhausted her. She waited for the kiss of Xanax to kick in, Prince Charming bearing a sheath for her nerves.
Ben hadn’t cared if they ate hot mayonnaise and slept on typhus-encrusted sheets when they’d met, not while they burned off the searing heat of their early years. He’d been exciting, her Ben, a public defense lawyer demanding the world give his wrecked clients a break—a little justice, a fair shot. She could barely breathe around him, some part of her always needing to touch some part of him. Her hand on his shoulder. An ankle casually leaning against his calf.
Ben dwarfed everyone, racing through life with exclamation points coming out all sides. Poverty to the right? Boom! Racism? Pow. Dirty landlords? Gotcha!

Who knew all that passion and rage could be directed at a late car payment? A missing button.
Her.
 
 
Coming up . . . my review of Accidents of Marriage!
 

 

September 11, 2014

Audiobook Review: PETALS ON THE WIND by V. C. Andrews



Description:   

For Carrie, Chris and Cathy the attic was a dark horror that would not leave their minds.

Of course mother had to pretend they didn't exist and grandmother was convinced they had the devil in them.

But that wasn't their fault. Was it?

Cathy knew what to do. She knew it was time to show her mother and grandmother that the pain and terror of the attic could not be forgotten...Show them. Show them -- once and for all.


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.  

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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.