If There Be Thorns begins:
In the late evening when the shadows were long, I sat quiet and unmoving near one of Paul's marble statues. I heard the statues whispering to me [clearly her Years of Incestuous Bliss with Chris haven't improved Cathy's stability any] of the past I could never forget; hinting slyly of the future I was trying to ignore. Flickering ghostly in the pale light of the rising moon were the will-o'-the-wisp regrets [what] that told me daily I could and should have done differently. [JEEPERS, WOMAN. YOU ESCAPED YOUR MURDERESS MOTHER; YOU GOT REVENGE ON HER THAT INCLUDED GETTING KNOCKED UP BY HER HUSBAND, BURNING HER HOUSE DOWN, AND GETTING HER COMMITTED; AND YOU ARE NOW LIVING AN IDYLLIC LIFE WITH YOUR HUSBAND/BROTHER. WHAT MORE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT??] But I am what I have always been, a person ruled by instincts. It seems I can never change.
Also on p3: Cathy found "a strand of silver" in her hair, so soon she "might be her grandmother". Which is a totally reasonable logical leap.
And it looks like Jory and Bart are going to narrate some, if not all, of this book.
In case you've forgotten, Jory's first name is actually Julian, after his father, Cathy's first husband, the abusive rapist ballet dancer. But they call him Jory, in memory of Julian (suicide via embroidery scissors) and Cory (murder by doughnut).
I was hoping that Jory's narration would be less convoluted than Cathy's, but, no:
Whenever Dad didn't drive me home from school, a yellow school bus would let me off at an isolated spot where I would recover my bike from the nearest ravine, hidden there each morning before I stepped onto the bus. [I... where the hell do you live, kid? A totally isolated, yet high bike-theft area?]
To reach my home I had to travel a winding narrow road without any houses until I came to the huge deserted mansion [because of course] that invariably drew my eyes, making me wonder who had lived there; why had they deserted it? When I saw that house I automatically slowed, knowing soon I'd be home.
The travelogue continues, but I'll spare you. They live twenty miles north of San Francisco, and in the next three sentences, he tells us that the area is "cold", "dreary", "cold" (yes, again), "eerie", "spooky", "mysterious", and "romantic".
He also has "vague, disturbing memories" about "a southern garden full of giant magnolia trees dripping with Spanish moss".
p6. Oh, good. He wants to be a famous dancer, so his father will have "not lived and died in vain". Because the way to future happiness is in basing your life around proving that your Dead Abusive Rapist Father was a great dancer.
He sees his ballerina grandmother annually, so apparently Cathy reconciled with her at some point.
"Safe in the valley where the wind doesn't blow," my mother said often. Too often, really—as if the wind blowing greatly distressed her. [GOOD THING THEY SETTLED NEAR THE COAST, THEN.]
They have a cook/housekeeper, Emma, who is "pleasingly plump" and waits on Young Bart a lot because he breaks/spills everything he touches.
p7-8. The boys spend a lot of time sitting on a wall.
THIS BOOK IS RIVETING, I TELL YOU WHAT.
Oh, good, Cathy's dancing up in the attic. She is "compelled" to do so, despite the heat and the dust. Apparently airing it out is not in the cards. And she A) hides the fact that she does it from Chris, and B) has "warned" Jory to keep it from him as well. AWESOME PARENTING, CATHY. ALWAYS NICE TO INVOLVE YOUR KIDS IN YOUR CRAZY. MAYBE YOU SHOULD SHOW HIM YOUR STASH OF 'LUDES, TOO, AND THEN SWEAR HIM TO SECRECY ABOUT THAT AS WELL.
Speaking of, you'd think that Chris and Cathy would have either A) bought a house WITHOUT an attic, or B) bought a house that doesn't have a HIDDEN DOOR TO THE ATTIC.
This time I was going up. This time I was going to listen to the excuses she gave him. For Dad would catch her! [Wow, he's Cathy's son all right: voyeurism and starting sentences with 'for' and EVERYTHING.]
Jory is fourteen; Bart is nine. Wow. I'd really assumed that Jory was, like, seven and that Bart was a toddler. RECALIBRATING.
I wondered often about the different facets my parents had. One for the public to view; another for Bart and me, and the third, most fervent side, which they showed only to each other. (How could they know their two sons were not always discreet enough to turn away and leave like they should?) [Um. Ew. So, like, Chris and Cathy just start going at it with the kids in the room? FANTASTIC. That's not scarring or anything.]
Cathy is thirty-seven.
AND HAS GONE 'ROUND THE BEND, JUDGING BY THE SOLO DANCE PARTY SHE'S HOLDING.
p9-10. Um. Cathy has installed twin beds in the attic. FOR THE BOYS? IS SHE PLANNING TO STICK THE BOYS IN THE ATTIC?
Ever the VOICE OF REASON (<--well, occasionally), Chris is NOT PLEASED.
"Catherine," Dad went on in the same cold, hard voice, "don't stand there and try to look innocent, like some wicked child caught stealing. Why are those beds here, all made up with clean sheets and new blankets? Why the picnic hamper? Haven't we seen enough of that type of basket to last us our whole lives through?"
PICNICS ARE OFF-LIMITS, CATHY. YOU KNOW THIS.
"I ask myself each day how I can come home and not be tired of you, and still feel as I do after so many years, and after all that has happened." [BACK-HANDED COMPLIMENT MUCH, CHRIS?]
Cathy claims that she DOESN'T REMEMBER buying the basket or installing the beds.
Also, she's decorated with "pretty pictures of flowers on the walls". THAT'S A GOOD SIGN.
p11-13. Blah, blah, blah, the grandmother is dead and Momma is thousands of miles away, let's make out and DANCE.
Shriveled up tight and small, I watched him try to do the difficult ballet steps that would have been so easy for me. He didn't have enough skill or grace to partner someone as skilled as my mom. It was embarrassing to even see him try. [YOU'RE embarrassed, Jory? I'M embarrassed. Because suddenly I think I see where this is going and ew.]
Stuff Jory is overhearing has convinced him that his parents may not have been entirely truthful about their past. OH JORY, IF YOU ONLY KNEW.
"Okay, you're feeling better, yourself again," Dad said. "I want you to solemnly promise that if anything ever happens to me, be it tomorrow, or years from now, you swear that you will never, so help you God, hide Bart and Jory in the attic so you can go unencumbered into another marriage." [WHICH, OF COURSE, TOTALLY DISCOUNTS THE WHOLE REASON MOMMA HID THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE, BUT WHATEVER. LOGIC GENERALLY DOESN'T APPLY TO THE DOLLANGANGERS.]
Mom wouldn't do that. She couldn't! She loved me. She loved Bart too. [I'm sure he appreciates his afterthought status, you arrogant twerp.] Even if she did look at him sometimes with shadows in her eyes, still she would never, never hide us away in this attic. [NEVER SAY NEVER, JORY.]
CHRIS THROWS THE PICNIC BASKET OUT THE WINDOW! DOWN WITH PICNICS!
Cathy apparently wants to adopt another kid. GOOD IDEA, CATHY.
Sounds like Chris visits Momma every summer. VERY HEALTHY, CHRIS.
Wish I was graceful like him. Wish I could dance and charm everybody into likin me. Jory was bigger, older, smarter—but wait a minute. Maybe I could make myself smarter if not bigger. My head was big. [BART = CARRIE!!]
Okay, so Bart doesn't feel physical pain because his nerve endings are too short. Or something like that. But that doesn't explain his countrified dialect, which doesn't remotely line up with anyone else's in the book. (Well, except Carrie, but she's dead.)
p17-18. Ah, the wall they hang out on belongs to the DESERTED MANSION. They wander around INSIDE the mansion a lot, too.
None of the bathrooms worked. No water. [How totally odd in an abandoned house.] Crazy sinks with no water and stupid fruit cellar [I can't escape fruit cellars lately.] with no fruit, and wine cellar with no wine.
Jory wants to buy Cathy a house. No word as to whether he's planning to let Chris and Bart live with them.
WORKMEN ARRIVE AT THE DESERTED MANSION.
p19. They immediately begin painting and wallpapering. Because why bother getting the water turned back on and, I dunno, CLEANING IT FIRST.
According to one of the workers (who yells at the boys... for sitting on the wall?), some "rich dame" with servants bought the place.
p20. Chris and Cathy aren't "too happy about neighbors they didn't intend to visit and make welcome." Man, they're charmers.
p21. JORY. Bart doesn't like anything but snack foods. HAVE A DOUGHNUT, BART.
One of Cathy's ballerinas got in a car accident and has a two-year-old daughter who reminds her of Carrie (*shudder*) and what do you want to bet that somehow they're going to end up adopting her? Oh, her name is Cindy. THAT'S A DONE DEAL, THEN.
p22. Cathy doesn't like the house because Doctor Paul's statues don't look right in the garden. Okaaaaaay.
I can't figure out whether Bart is a sociopath or just profoundly weird.
p23. Bart wants to know why Chris looks so much like Cathy's father. DO TELL, CATHY.
p24-25. The rich lady and her butler arrive, and Bart continues to channel Carrie: "Hate black dresses that drag on the ground. Hate ole ladies who want black veils over their heads. Hate spooks."
Jory, meanwhile, is channeling Tim Roth from Lie to Me: "Even from our hidden place, I could tell she felt nothing but scorn for the butler. Gee—intrigue." GEE, INDEED.
Like Victoria Grayson, the old lady in the black veil will be able to SEE INTO THEIR HOUSE from her second floor. LET'S HOPE THAT CHRIS AND CATHY HAVE INVESTED IN CURTAINS.
Maids are running around DOING THINGS, while she's just STANDING THERE, STARING AT THE DOLLANGANGER'S CHIMNEY.
p26. Bart is a caterpillar murderer.
And pulls the legs off of spiders. Nice kid.
Meanwhile, Jory is going on and on about the beautiful sunset and the "music of colors". I hope they both fall down a well.
p27. Lady in Black now has animal topiaries.
p28. Jory has progressed from Parent Voyeur to Peeping Tom. The veiled woman has JAGGED ROWS OF SCARS ON EACH SIDE OF HER FACE, which makes him assume that she must have had a cat in the past.
p29. AND ALSO, SHE LOOKS JUST LIKE THEIR MOTHER.
JORY IS NOW SMASHING HIS FACE INTO CATHY'S BOOBS, AS WELL-ADJUSTED FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD SONS SO OFTEN DO.
They looked at me, but they didn't see me. They didn't know who I was. To them I was just a thing to sit at their table and try to swallow the stuff they put on my plate. My thoughts were all around, but they didn't read my mind, couldn't figure me out at all. [UMMMMM. NO BART, YOU AREN'T CREEPY AND MENACING AT ALL.]
He's headed off to the mansion.
Plaintively was one of the new words I had to use. One new word each day, and Daddy gave a list of seven words to both Jory and me, insistin we use today's word at least five times in our conversation. Didn't need a bigger vocabulary. Knew how to talk good enough already. [Yeesh, Bart and Chris deserve each other.]
p32. Bart just marches up to the mansion and bangs on the front door. HE MIGHT BE A PSYCHO, BUT HE'S A PSYCHO WITH CHUTZPAH.
The Woman in Black—let's not be coy, we totally think she's Corrine, right?—actually invited him over. That she's concerned about his welfare—"Do you have to slip away from your parents? Do they punish you often?"—is just RICH.
p33-34. Wait, did nine-year-old Bart REALLY just roll a cigarette and start smoking it?
Or is half of what he says fantasy?
Anyway, Probably-Corrine admits to standing around on a stepladder and spying on the boys. Because she's lonely, with only her butler John Amos to keep her company.
"Once I had two sons, now I don't," she said with her eyes cast down and her voice sad and tight. [GOSH, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR SONS?] "Then I wanted to have another son by my second husband, and I couldn't." [Because these are the things you say to nine-year-olds.] She looked up and met my eyes. "So I want you to take the place of the third son I couldn't have. I'm very rich, Bart. I can give you anything you want." [WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE???]
"I've made so many mistakes, Bart." [AHAHAHAHA, YES, YOU LOCKED YOUR KIDS IN THE ATTIC FOR YEARS AND POURED ARSENIC ON THEIR DOUGHNUTS AND KEPT A CORPSE IN A TRUNK, BUT THAT'S OKAY, BECAUSE YOU DID ALL OF THOSE THINGS BY MISTAKE.]
"I've never won any game I've tried to play. I've always gone down in defeat even when I thought I held the winning cards." [OH CORINNE, I FEEL SO BAD FOR YOU. THE EMPATHY, I'M FEELING IT ALL. No, no I'm not.]
p35. Cathy is still not-so-secretly hoping that her "favorite student" will die so that she can have her kid.
And now she and Jory are laughing at Bart for pretending stuff all of the time AND I'M SURE THAT WON'T DRIVE HIM RIGHT OVER TO CORINNE OR ANYTHING. (I almost said INTO CORINNE'S ARMS BUT DIDN'T BECAUSE I DIDN'T WANT TO GIVE THEM IDEAS.)
p36. Three days in, and he's spending a lot of time in her lap, being "petted and pampered" and kissed on the cheek.
She's also given him a room full of toys.
And we finally meet John Amos, who is just as creepy as you'd expect him to be: "You like her, don't you?" he asked, slyly smilin, noddin his head up and down, from side to side, so I could be confused if I wanted. "When you want the full truth about who you are—and who she is—come to me." [YES, I'LL DO JUST THAT, JOHN AMOS. WHY DON'T YOU GO UP IN THE ATTIC AND WAIT FOR ME UP THERE.]
p37. I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING YOU WANT... EXCEPT A PONY. (Yes, literally. Because ponies MAKE YOU SMELL BAD.)
So she offers him a St. Bernard instead, but he's not having any of it... until she points out that only "the super rich can afford to feed a St. Bernard", which WINS HIM OVER.
Maybe someone will die soon.
Oh, good, now she's got him calling her Grandmother.
p38-39. NOW SHE'S BOSSING HIM ABOUT HIS TABLE MANNERS. THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG.
AND JOHN AMOS JUST TOLD HIM THAT SHE'S HIS ACTUAL GRANDMOTHER. SO MUCH FOR WAITING UNTIL BART ASKS FOR THE TRUTH, JOHN AMOS.
"Now you listen to me, boy, and you will never feel weak and ineffective again. You read a little of this book every day and it will teach you to be like your great-grandfather, Malcolm Neal Foxworth. Never on this earth did there live a man who was smarter than your own great-grandfather—the father of your grandmother who sits in that rocker and wears that ugly black veil." [UH OH.]
Also, women are evil users, especially beautiful ones. WHY EXACTLY DID SHE HIRE THIS GUY?
Wasn't really surprised by nothin he said, except I hadn't known women were that bad. Always suspected they were, but never really knew. I should warn Jory. [YES, IT MAKES A LOT OF SENSE THAT THIS GENERALLY-SUSPICIOUS KID BELIEVES EVERYTHING OUT OF THIS TOTALLY CREEPY DUDE'S MOUTH. Maybe he's been taking Inconsistency Lessons from Hannah Gruen.]
"Now, if you want to save your everlasting soul from the fires of eternal hell, you will read this book and grow strong and powerful like your great-grandfather. Then women will never rule you again. You will rule them." [WELL, OKAY THEN. YOU'VE CONVINCED ME.]
YOU'LL BE HAPPY TO KNOW THAT THE JOURNAL SUGGESTS THAT THE DOLLANGANGER PROCLIVITY FOR INCEST GOES BACK FURTHER THAN CHRIS & CATHY'S PARENTS.
ALSO, IF YOU HATE YOUR MOTHER, WHY WOULD YOU NAME YOUR DAUGHTER AFTER HER?
OH, WAIT, probably to REMIND YOURSELF THAT WOMAN ARE EVIL.
p40. Just so you know, woman are "basically weak and stupid". So says John Amos, Bart's new best friend.
Cathy: "Possession is nine-tenths of the law...!" SHE IS TALKING ABOUT A PERSON HERE.
p42. "If we have Cindy before Nicole dies, the agency won't have any reason to investigate." THAT... MAKES... SENSE. (No. No, it doesn't.)
Christopher points out that Nicole might recover, and that even if she is "permanently crippled", she'll PROBABLY STILL WANT HER DAUGHTER.
To which Cathy responds, "But what kind of mother will she make?"
DID WE ALREADY KNOW THAT CHRIS TALKED CATHY INTO GETTING STERILIZED?
IF NOT, WE DO NOW.
AS DOES JORY.
p43. Apparently every choice that Cathy has ever made has been Christopher's fault.
p44. Nice. After being berated for PAGES, he threatens to leave, and she's all sorry and didn't mean any of it...
p45. ...but now she's berating him again.
HOLY COW, I DON'T EVEN LIKE HIM AND I WANT TO LOCK HER IN THE ATTIC.
p46. And then they have make-up sex. Or I assume that they do, because Jory backs away because he doesn't want to "see too much". Liar.
ALTHOUGH I GUESS HE STAYED FOR LONGER THAN I THOUGHT, BECAUSE "Did a woman ever pull down a man's fly zipper of her own free will—even a wife?"
And then he runs off and overhears CORRINE sobbing.
Man, after tonight I'm betting he'll think twice before getting out of bed for a glass of water.
p47. Jory is now spying on Bart and Corrine.
p48. Now HE'S banging on her door. And in he goes.
p49. Nicole died; Cindy's moving in.
p50. Psycho Bart tries to ATTACK HER, and Christopher uses the incident to squeeze in an I TOLD YOU SO.
I BET CINDY IS SUPER-JAZZED TO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT INTO THIS HAPPY FAMILY.
p52. BART. Well, Bart's misogyny is coming along swimmingly: He's now referring to the two-year-old as "wicked" because she isn't modest enough about her naked body and to his grandmother as "a tease" for not buying him a pony. JOHN AMOS MUST BE SO PROUD.
p53. Bart's word of the day is 'devious'. NICE CHOICE, CHRISTOPHER.
p54. Corinne warns Bart about John Amos. Who is her hired man. Um. Yeah.
p55. Jory barges into Corrine's place and drags Bart out, but he still doesn't mention the situation to Cathy and/or Chris. Then again, it's not like they're particularly stable, so.
p56-7. She gives him a St. Bernard, he's peeved because he's "suffered through" all of that ice cream and cuddling AND SHE STILL WON'T GET HIM A PONY.
SHE BOUGHT A SADDLE FOR THE DOG. A SADDLE. FOR THE DOG.
p58. I know that this dog is fictional, but I want to rescue it.
Also, I think that Corrine is finally realizing just how bonkers Bart is.
YOU KNOW IT'S SERIOUS IF CORRINE THINKS YOU'RE CRAZY.
p60. Bart is demanding that no one feed his dog while he's gone. FOR THREE WEEKS.
p61-63. Between John Amos and the journal, Bart is getting very fire-and-brimstone-anti-woman. And sometimes says 'I' instead of 'he' when talking about Malcolm. SO THAT BODES WELL.
Cathy, on Bart and Mrs. Next-Door: "If he's over in that other yard, you tell me. I don't want you children bothering an old recluse, though I wish to heaven she'd stop climbing that ladder and staring at me over the wall." So, if the neighbor is creeping YOU out, Cathy, don't you think that you should maybe be PROACTIVE about keeping your kids away from her? Rather than making it your son's responsibility to police his brother? I CAN'T BELIEVE I AM STILL SURPRISED BY THIS STUFF.
Also, Jory has the hots for Melodie Richarme, another dancer. Because boobs.
Bart is trying to feed the puppy—who he's named 'Apple'—hay. Because he wants a pony, so.
p65. Sure, Jory. Your beloved mother asked you, LITERALLY ONE PAGE AGO, to tell her if Bart was hanging out next door, but you decide to keep the puppy thing to yourself, NOT TO MENTION THE WHOLE SHE CLAIMS TO BE YOUR GRANDMOTHER THING.
Corrine tells John Amos off for not knowing his place. YET CONTINUES TO EMPLOY HIM, so clearly there's more to it. OR MAYBE NOT, AS WE'VE ALREADY ESTABLISHED THAT LOGIC DOESN'T NECESSARILY FACTOR INTO THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS OF ANY OF THESE CHARACTERS.
Speaking of, Bart is now mixing more and more hay into Apple's food. Because he thinks he can train a dog to live on hay.
ALSO, BART TEARS UP JORY'S GARDEN AND REPLANTS THE PLANTS IN HIS OWN GARDEN.
AND HE KILLED A CAT.
HE. KILLED. A. CAT.
END OF PART ONE, THANK THE LORD.
I never thought I'd miss Cathy and Chris, but man, these kids are killing me.