Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Book Review: "Heaven"

I may have mentioned that I visited Mame, her husband Beau and baby Glowbug over the New Year holiday. We had a great time, of course. I flew out and since EVERY TIME I FLY, it is RIFE with delays and hassles, I brought at least four books with me. Did I read any of them when I got to Mame's? No. Her guest room is also her library/scrapbooking room. So, my first night there, I'm perusing her shelves (NOTE: I am fully one of those people who will inspect your book/dvd/cd shelves and ask to borrow things and possibly judge you for the contents. SORRY.) for something to read before bed to unwind. And! I spot Heaven, my very favorite V.C. Andrews novel. KICK ASS.

First of all? Heaven? Unlike most of V.C.'s heroine's is not blonde. She's a BRUNETTE. YEAH. REPRESENT! Ahem. Anyway, our girl Heaven Casteel is part of a dirt-poor family of "hill folk." I think they're Appalachian? Yeah, it's like that. Her dad is mean to her and she's got a whole pack of little brothers and sisters. And they are total white trash. And life is just full of misery and woe. But then! She finds out that her "Pa" is mean to her because she's the only child of his first wife who died in childbirth with her. And her mother was a rich girl from the "city" and possibly she's better than everyone else. Um, ok. So, she grows up poor, but hoping for a better life through EDUCATION. Dude, that's pretty impressive for a trashy novel. Heaven explicitly states that she wants to make her own way in the world and get an education and have a career. Wow. Of course, she falls in love with a boy at school, Logan Stonewall. (Yes, as subtle as ever with the names, aren't we.)

For once, most of the secondary characters are pretty well-drawn. We've got Tom, Heaven's younger brother. (Who is like, the same age as her. I think they are something like four months apart. Um, Heaven, honey? It never occurred to you that maybe Tom wasn't your FULL brother? Since he isn't your twin? Whatever. ALSO. Heaven's Pa was like, so totally in love with Heaven's mother but that didn't stop him from knocking up another woman! Nope!) Heaven and Tom are really close and supportive of each other, BUT! Not actually incestuous! This is a big step for V.C. Andrews characters! I mean, Heaven and Tom love each other but they don't LOVE each other. If you know what I mean. And I'm pretty sure you do. Tom even says at one point when Heaven asks him if he ever wants to get married that he loves her best in the world but "can't have her," so he'll marry their teacher instead. Ok, that's inappropriate in a different way, but PROGRESS! He knows that he can't marry his own sister! That puts him ahead of Chris (Flowers in the Attic), Jimmy (Dawn) and Luke Jr. (Gates of Paradise, a later Casteel series novel). So, props to you Tom Casteel! Um, for not wanting to boink your own sister! Huh. Also, Heaven's younger sister Fanny (Heh, Fanny.) is the obligatory tramp character that turns up in all of Andrews' novels. She's also wildly jealous of Heaven and always tries to steal her boyfriend. But she is a bit less ham-handed about it than some of her counterparts.

So, anyway, the family is really poor, right? And their mom, Sarah, takes off, finally having had it with Luke's cheating, abusive ways. (Luke really IS a winner. Ugh.) And the littlest daughter, Our Jane is fragile and sickly. Heaven skips a lot of school to take care of her younger siblings and her grandfather. Heaven is saved from irritating sainthood by her sassiness and the fact that she and Tom and Fanny take up hilariously inept stealing to feed their family. Seriously. They are BAD at it. Luke's solution to his family's poverty? Getting a job? NO! Selling his children! Totally! GREAT PLAN!

Heaven gets sold to Cal and Kitty Dennison, the latter of which is one of Luke's former girlfriends. Yeah, great plan, that. Naturally, she's an abusive psycho. Cal is sympathetic and kind -- when his wife's not looking. Yeah, Cal sucks. So, Kitty uses Heaven for cheap house labor and also physically and emotionally abuses her. And kills her pet hamster. Ew. Heaven embarks on a mission to find her brothers and sisters. Cal helps her with this. She also stews with rage at her Pa. It's fun. What's not so fun is when Kitty goes down for the count with what we later learn is breast cancer. That's when Cal makes his move on our girl Heaven. The creepy affair that they have is actually pretty interesting. Heaven is only about 16 or 17 and has major daddy issues. She doesn't want to have a sexual relationship with Cal. But she wants to be loved, OK? What's interesting is that unlike Cathy and Paul's affair in Petals on the Wind, (where the age and power differentials are even MORE egregious) Andrews never portrays the relationship as anything other than icky, creepy and damaging.

So, blah, blah, Kitty gets sicker and the dysfunctional, sort-of family returns to Winnerow, where Heaven is reunited with Fanny and Tom and Logan. This all goes about as well as you'd expect. Logan dumps her for being a cheating whore, which is somewhat understandable since he's a teenage boy and probably hasn't been keeping up with the latest in abuse dynamics or feminism. Pa blows Heaven off, but leaves her the address for her RICH ASS MATERNAL GRANDPARENTS. Um, where were you guys when your granddaughter was living in a shack and eating um, NOTHING? Nice. So, Heaven sets off to meet her grandparents and try to get an education and we'll meet her again in...DARK ANGEL. (Oh, Heaven's father's nickname for her mother was "Angel." And she was a blonde. But Heaven is a brunette. Oh, V.C., so coy with your titles. Heh.)

This is why books actually written by V.C. Andrews are so much better than the stupid fucking ghost writer. They CERTAINLY aren't high art or literature, they are a fun, trashy, fast read. But, at least old V.C. took the time to give most of her characters some personality, some quirks. And while she TOTALLY delves stereotypes for a lot of them, most of her main characters are reasonably complex. None of them are perfect. Heaven is, often, a TOTAL BITCH with a stick up her ass and a HUGE revenge complex. But that's why she's fun.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that was lengthy- no need to re-read here. Thanks!
Bea's mom

"Lady" Bea said...

Well, I'm NOTHING if not opinionated and long-winded. Particularly when it comes to V.C. Andrews.

Two of Hearts said...

Okay, just bought that book over the weekend at a flea market and reread it this weekend. Weird.