It is a truth universally acknowledged that Flowers in the Attic — V.C. Andrews’ neo-gothic, incest-laden trashterpiece — is utterly, utterly nuts. To wit: The plot revolves around a beautiful idiot named Corrine who keeps her four children locked on the top floor of a creepy old mansion while she tries to convince their estranged, incredibly wealthy grandfather to write her back into his will. (She’ll get no money if her father knows she has kids.) Why can’t this woman, I don’t know, support her family by getting a job? Because shut up, that’s why!
If you’ve ever devoured the book — especially as a guilty but enthralled teenager — you know that what happens next is even more ridiculous: The kids learn that their father was also their mother’s half-uncle. (Raise your hand if you didn’t know half-uncles were a thing before Flowers in the Attic). Their wicked, Bible-thumping grandmother beats them, starves them, covers eldest sister Cathy’s hair with tar, and won’t stop insinuating that Cathy and her older brother Chris totally want to bone. Cathy and Chris do, in fact, totally bone. (Actually, he rapes her, but Andrews is so twisted that she implies Cathy was asking for it.) And that’s before their youngest brother Cory dies because — drum roll — their mother’s been poisoning them with arsenic-laced doughnuts for months.
Death by doughnut! Truly, Flowers in the Attic is without equal — or so you’ll think until you read its sequel, Petals on the Wind.
On Thursday, Lifetime announced that it’s already planning to bring Petals to the small screen for the first time — even though the network’s new adaptation of Flowers won’t premiere until Jan. 18. This is, in short, an insane, baffling, possibly genius idea — and here’s why.
1. Petals dials the incest up to 11
As is the way of sequels, everything’s bigger in Petals. The story is more sweeping, covering the 12 years that elapse after Chris, Cathy, and their sister Carrie escape from their upstairs prison. The prose, somehow, is even purpler. And Chris and Cathy’s taboo love, which blossomed during their long confinement, gets even more intense and Lannisterian. You thought their torrid tryst on that smelly attic mattress was squicky? You ain’t seen nothing yet:
“Cathy — look at me! Don’t turn your head and pretend you don’t know what I’m doing, what I’m saying! Look and see the torment you’ve put me in! How can I find anyone else, when you’ve been bred into my bones — and are part of my flesh? Your blood runs fast when mine does! Your eyes burn when mine do — don’t deny it!” His trembling hands began to fumble with the tiny, lace-covered buttons that opened my nightgown to the waist. I closed my eyes and was again in the attic, when he’d accidentally stabbed me in the side with the scissors, so now I was hurting, bleeding, and I needed his lips to kiss and take away the pain.
“How beautiful your breasts are,” he said with a low sigh, leaning to nuzzle them. “I remember when you were flat, and then when you began to grow. You were so shy about them, always wanting to wear loose sweaters so I couldn’t see. Why were you ashamed?”
I think the only fair response to that passage is ASDLFKJAD;LFJASDF. (Side note: There are more sexy nightgowns per capita in Petals than in any other book known to man. It’s a scientific fact.)
2. That’s not even Petals‘ most disturbing relationship.
Shortly after the kids say “sayonara” to the attic, they’re fortunate enough to stumble upon a new home — that of Dr. Paul Sheffield, a kindly widower who takes the children in and nurses them back to health. Except later in the book, you find out that 40-something Paul actually welcomed the Dollenganger kids because he’s got a jones for 15-year-old Cathy. And in V.C. Andrews’ mind, that is a totally regular and fine thing; Cathy, of course, reciprocates his affection.
3. Paul’s got a real doozy of a dark past
So why is Paul a widower? Oh, just because his frigid wife Julia learned that he had been having an affair — because she wouldn’t have sex with him; yup, the infidelity is painted as being her fault — then drowned herself and his only son on the kid’s third birthday. As you do.
4. Also, his wife’s not dead
Yeah, much-older lovers aren’t exactly the most trustworthy demographic. Paul’s bitchy sister Amanda informs Cathy that Julia didn’t really kill herself — she’s just been institutionalized. How very Edward Rochester of him! (Jane Eyre is the original Flowers in the Attic — discuss.) Anyway, after hearing this, Cathy’s so distraught that she decides to elope with an unstable ballet dancer named Julian, even though she’s still only like, 18. Where’s the fire, girl?
5. At this point, the book is only halfway done.
There are a lot of petals on the wind, guys.
6. Remember Chris and Cathy’s youngest sister Carrie?
Yeah, well, after Julian flies into a rage, gets paralyzed in a car accident, and ends up taking his own life, Carrie — who’s plagued with an overly large head because her growth was stunted in the attic; yes, this is treated as a gravely serious problem — decides to commit suicide… by eating arsenic-laced doughnuts. The deadly pastries strike again!
7. Only now does the book’s real plot kick in
Lifetime describes its version of Petals on the Wind as taking place 10 years after the first film, meaning that it may choose to gloss over any or all of the previous items on this list. (Except the incest, because, let’s face it, that’s the only reason people care about these dumb books in the first place.) But it can’t possibly elide what happens next: Cathy decides that the only way to truly get back at her mother — and avenge Carrie’s death — is to seduce Bart, her strapping young stepfather.
8. Spoiler alert: She does
Because the Dollenganger family tree wasn’t already warped enough, Cathy successfully gets Bart to impregnate her. She then exposes the truth of her mother’s treachery at Corrine’s fancy Christmas party, while dressed in an outfit that’s an exact replica of the gown Corrine wore to that same party 15 years earlier. Cathy really needs to get a hobby.
9. Then Petals rips off Jane Eyre one more time
Corrine admits to Bart that everything Cathy said is true, then has a mental breakdown after Cathy lays down her trump card: She went into the mansion’s attic and discovered that her little brother Cory’s body has been hidden upstairs all this time. (And the kids somehow didn’t notice a smell when they were still trapped up there? Never mind; now is not the time to complain about improbable plot points.) Corrine then sets fire to the mansion, destroying the evidence and killing both Bart and her own evil mother.
10. Chris and Cathy end up together
Only they move to California, where nobody cares if you’re married to your brother. THE END.
In other words: Bring it on, Lifetime. Bring. It. On.
Flowers in the Attic premieres Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.