Movie Night with Book Club.

My book club has gone through a string of heavy, rewarding and highly-involving books; when it was time to pick the next title, we all were craving something lighter. We still wanted to have the next plot somehow connect to the one that came before it — Thomas Mallon’s Henry and Clara, was, amongst other things, about the relationship between brothers and sisters, so when someone brought up Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews we laughingly agreed that it would be a good fit. We decided not only to read the book, but to also watch the film adaptation. Only two of us had read the novel before (neither Heather nor Melissa could really remember the details), and none of us had seen the movie, so we thought it would be a perfect departure from our reading record, which has included such titles as The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company by Brian Hall, both densely-written books.

You just try and tell me that my book club isn’t the best ever.

I’m too young to recall the hoopla surrounding the book when it was first published in 1979, but I distinctly remember seeing copies for sale in the book aisle of ShopRite when I was a kid; its cover art completely drew me in, even though I had no idea what the story was about. There was an illustration of a house, and in one of the topmost windows was a cut-out — as if it were an actual window — through which I could see the picture of a blonde girl. (Honestly, I thought it was the coolest thing.) When I flipped open the cover, the second page revealed the blonde girl surrounded by a blond boy and two younger golden-haired children. Behind the four of them was an ominous figure approaching them from out of the shadows; all five had pallid skin, leading me to think at that young age that this was a scary book, possibly about vampires.

I was wrong, on both counts.

There is nothing scary about Flowers in the Attic, except perhaps Andrews’s unnecessarily abundant use of punctuation and her inability to write not only realistic dialogue, but a believable narrative in general. Here’s an example from the very beginning:

“Yes, Momma, I know exactly what you mean,” Christopher piped up. “You did something of which your father disapproved, and so, even though you were included in his will, he had his lawyer write you out instead of thinking twice, and now you won’t inherit any of his worldly goods when he passes on to the great beyond.” He grinned, pleased with himself for knowing more than me. He always had the answers to everything. He had his nose in a book whenever he was in the house. Outside, under the sky, he was just as wild, just as mean as any other kid on the block. But indoors, away from the television, my older brother was a bookworm!

For those of you are unaware, Flowers in the Attic is the story of the four Dollanganger children: Chris, Cathy, Cory and Carrie. At the beginning of the novel, which spans three years, Chris and Cathy are fourteen and twelve respectively, while fraternal twins Cory and Carrie are five. When their father is killed in a car accident, their mother Corrine moves them to her childhood home in Virginia, which isn’t so much a house as it is a sprawling mansion. Upon arrival, the children learn that Corrine’s parents have exiled her from the family for marrying her half-uncle; in order to get back into her father’s good graces — as well as to lay claim to her inheritance — Corrine conspires with her mother to hide the four children in an unused portion of the manor while she sweet-talks her father. The novel gets its title from the playground the Dollanganger children make for themselves beneath the mansion’s eaves, since they are locked into a room with attic access and are forbidden to leave. Over the years, Cathy and Chris become increasingly attracted to each other, even going so far as to, um, consummate their relationship.

It would be a flat-out lie to say that any of us enjoyed the book, though I do know that we all burned through it; Amanda says it was because she just wanted it to be over already. Even so, we were determined to watch the movie version when we met up at Heather’s adorable new house.

Before we assembled ourselves onto the vast sofa (which we kept on referring to as “the party raft”), we had to get down to the serious business of food prep. After all, in our book club, what we eat is just as important as what we read… one could even argue that it’s even more important, in some cases.

While Stephanie rolled out the crust for two pizzas (rosemary, red potato and smoked cheese; eggplant and goat cheese), Heather fried up some squash fritters, which she served alongside a zingy mustard dipping sauce. Darlington had baked some scallion-and-cheese biscuits, Melissa had made a mixed-berry pie and Amanda provided the drinks. Earlier in the week I had volunteered to make a mac and cheese because I had a craving, but I had been hankering for a specific version: my aunt’s.

(My aunt Hasmig is my father’s sister, meaning she spends her time hanging out on the Lebanese and Armenian branches of my family tree. The thing is, I was raised to address her with Tagalog word for aunt, which is Tita. But none of that matters though, because her mac and cheese is neither Armenian nor Filipino. It’s just tasty and, better still, can be eaten with your hands once cooled and cut into squares. This isn’t, of course, to say that you can’t use a fork and knife, but what I want to know is why would you?)

When we were settled on the raft with our heaping plates and overflowing glasses, it was movie time. For a while, we kept shouting out derisive commentary to drown out the dialogue — yes, the film is that awful — but after a time we stopped doing even that. In fact, half of us fell asleep; I think I might have been the first to close my eyes, come to think of it. None of this stopped us from looking up factoids about the film afterwards — Kristy Swanson won the Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress in a Horror or Mystery Motion Picture, the exteriors were shot at Castle Hill in Ipswich — and it’s certainly not going to prevent me from reading the sequels. As terrible as Flowers in the Attic was, I just need to know what happens, the same way I just have to finish an open bag of Milanos: it’s unhealthy, irresistible and very regrettable indeed.

Tita Hasmig’s Mac + Cheese
Makes about twelve portions.

1 pound egg noodles
1 stick butter, plus one quarter
½ cup flour
4 cups milk (I use skim since that is what I drink, but if you can even use cream or half-and-have you want something richer)
1 pound mozzarella cheese
bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook egg noodles according package instructions. Drain and set aside.
  2. While noodles cook, melt butter in a large saucepan. Gradually stir flour into melted butter and cook over medium heat; whisk until a roux forms, then stir in milk. Whisk constantly until combined and sauce is free of lumps. Add cheese and salt and pepper; continue to stir until cheese has melted completely.
  3. Grease the bottom and sides of a large Pyrex or oven-proof baking dish, then evenly distribute breadcrumbs across the surface. Add cooked noodles to cheese and stir to combine. Pour noodle and cheese mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle the top with more bread crumbs. Cut the last quarter stick of butter into pieces and scatter across the breadcrumbs. Bake until top browns, about thirty minutes or so. Let cool, and cut into squares.

11 thoughts on “Movie Night with Book Club.

  1. you my friend are a complete loser. You didnt give this book a chance from the very beginning and whats worse is that you actually wasted my time on your ranting and raving about how much you disliked it. Give me a freaking break. Maybe if you stopped worrying about stuffing your fat faces with food you would have appreciated it. Get real!

  2. Joni, you are clearly entitled to your own opinion on the Dollanganger books — just as I am mine. I’m glad to hear that you liked the story and would be interested to hear why, as opposed to simply being dismissed for disagreeing with you.

  3. Honestly I think this book is the best book I’ve ever read. Both english and norwegian version. What I relized is that you shouldn’t read the book before you see the film, or just forget that the film is based on the book. Seriously, it was a total disappointment and I think they should make a new version of it. A more spicy one. Haven’t read the rest of the saga yet, but will soon. 🙂

  4. Wow, I wish I were fluent enough in another language to read a translated version of the book. What would be different? What would be the same? So interesting to think about…

    Let me know if you do read the rest of the series, and what you think!

  5. I’m 17 and i think i first read this book when i was 13 maybe? I’m not quite sure how i came across this book, i think a friend of mine was reading it at the time and recommended it to me, but i do know, i couldn’t put it down either! I’m not sure as such if i like the story as such, but it is addictive, because i have read all the books in the series, and the prequel and it is a very sad story. You just want to keep reading to see if things will ever run smoothly for Cathy. But nevertheless i definatly think it’s a good book. And when you think about it, everyone loves reading about a scandal that’s not involving them. I would like to see a remake of the movie also, it was very poorly made, i’m not sure when it’s release date is, so this could have something to do with it, I’m quite surprised actually that it HASN’T been remade yet, to be honest.

    • What you said regarding scandals and reading about them is definitely true. I know I felt that way for sure while I was making my way through the book. At the same time, it was so scandalous as to be ridiculous… which is why I ultimately had to put the Dollanganger books down and walk away.

  6. I’ve read this book multiple times, the spine is all worn out. I find the writing captivating, the story is wildly creative and unique all on it’s own. I read this first when I was Fifteen, I’m eighteen now, but even then I was captivated and could hardly put it down. Cleared the whole book in under two days. I have read the second book as well, but I haven’t devuldged into the other three (one being a prequel). I really want to be able to write like that, to captivate an audiance. I have read a few of her other works and they share the same captivating writing, twisted storyline and deep plots.

    That book dared to do what many didn’t, while allowing the reader to understand the characters and get to know them on deeper levels. This will always be one of my favorite books, it makes people think, and it does require a maturity that many people can’t handle. I’m not saying you can’t but I did have to explain it to my friends a couple of times, some people picked it up and enjoyed it while others didn’t. A lot of this book is preferance. It has a thriller, romance, mystery, and horror about it. It goes into a deep taboo and keeps that as a good anchor.

    The movie is god-awful though, it doesn’t do the book justice in the least, and I’m glad that the sequel was never picked up to be a movie. They would have butchered the characters further, also kept it impossible since the movie changed the story entirely.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as some of us did, but she does have other works that you should check out and read as well. Not all her books have a taboo like this but they are all dark and carry that thriller element. Secrets in the Attic was very good and keeps the reader on their toes (not a bridge of Flowers in the Attic) so you might enjoy that.

    Good luck with the rest of your reading!

  7. I’ve read several websites that says the ghostwriter of most of Andrew’s novels, Andrew Neiderman, was from 2006 thinking about doing a remake of the movie, which is something I’m looking forward to with a great deal of excitement. Yet in 2009 there’s no less talk about the remake and still it seems they will go through with iy:D Yey:) Hoping of course that this time it will be much more of what’s going on between Cathy and Chris. Maybe it will be a great success. Neiderman has also stated that he thinks og the original movie as a disaster. Hopefully he has written the script and screenplay more detailed by the book.

    Anyone who knows how to not cry at the end of Seeds of Yesterday?
    HUGE trouble to hold the tears back even in Petals On The Wind when Carrie dies and when they speak Cory’s name.
    Really, it’s a good make-up remover though.

  8. I find it very interesting how many people passionately defend FitA. After having read a few V.C. Andrews books in my teens and having been at least a bit enthralled with them for the scandalous stories, if nothing else, I figured now (many years later) that perhaps I should get around to reading her best known book. Much like your friend Amanda, I find myself reading quickly simply because I want to be done with it.
    I find the dialogue ridiculous, especially that of the older brother Christopher. The characters and storyline generally push my suspension of disbelief to it’s breaking point. I thought I’d at least get some laughs and smutty fun out of the story, but not even the forbidden love of two teenagers locked in an attic with only each other for objects of lust can keep me interested in this story. And the mother? I kind of want to smash her face. Not because she put her children in the predicament they are in, but because she’s annoying. As are the twins. As is the message (“Oh, we are so horribly imprisoned and suffering such horror and indignity…but it’s okay because we’ll all be rich soon! And then we can use that money, not for any Great Cause, but to spend on a life of leisure! Oh, and maybe eventually go to school. Therefore, running away and going to child services simply isn’t an option!”) Oh, and the exclamation points. Those were annoying too. And the fact that every single one of them was a magical child prodigy.

    I agree with you, blogger. This book had no redeeming features that I could find. I mean, I’m not done yet, so maybe I’m missing some AMAZING conclusion…but I kind of doubt it.

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