Pearl in the Mist, V.C. Andrews (1994)

The second in the Landry series, Pearl in the Mist picks up pretty much right where Ruby left off. Ruby and her twin sister, Gisselle, are shipped off by their insufferable bitch of a step-mother to an elite private girl’s school in another part of the state for their last year of high school. A major event in the first book has made Gisselle even more of an obnoxious brat in need of a serious bitch-slapping. No comeuppance is cruelly fitting enough for step-mother-from-hell Daphne, and father Pierre is fated to never retrieve his testicles from wherever his wife stashed them when she lopped them off.

At the Greenwood school, Ruby becomes good friends with another new student who is fodder, so I won’t bother talking about her. The school is mostly funded by a filthy rich, southern aristocrat old biddy named Louella Clairborne (blink and you’ll miss her). Her hard-ass niece is the principal who delights in bullying Ruby. But of course. Or should I say, mais oui? Mrs. Clairborne lives in a plantation house mansion and has small groups of students visit for tea.

When Ruby is invited with her sister and friend, she just so happens to accidentally meet her hostess’ grandson Louis, thirty-one, blind, and something of a recluse. He’s a gifted pianist and immediately takes a liking to our resident Mary Sue. The story of his parents’ deaths is interesting, until more details leads us into the bizarre, disturbing, and downright skeevy, revealing Mama was messed up in the head, hence, Louis ain’t right either.

One thing Andrews’ books were known for was their Gothic vibe. It was definitely present in My Sweet Audrina, and, from what I remember, the Flowers in the Attic series (read about 25 years ago). Sure, there’s the messed-up family dynamics, but I get no real Gothic feel here, not even Southern Gothic, apart from the glimpse into the really twisted backstory of Louis (molested by his mother, who infantilized him, he witnessed his father commit murder-suicide when he caught her with a very young lover, having moved on from her son). Set Louis aside, and this just reads like a teen soap. Which it is. I was hoping Ruby would be out on her own by now, but instead, I’m stuck reading about teenage love, mean high school girls, and uptight, matriarchal harridans bullying and abusing kids.

Another big complaint I have about these books are the numerous characters. Many exist simply as plot contrivances. You either don’t get to know them well enough to care about them, or you do care, hope to see them again and learn more, but they’re written out, having served a minor purpose. I hate it. There’s not enough character development where it’s needed. Instead, the story focuses too much on unimportant and repetitive bullshit. I’m still not a fan of the first person POV.

Ruby suffers from Mary Sueitis. Half-brother Paul still pines for her. There’s her lets-get-it-on boyfriend, Beau, who used to be Gisselle’s paramour. Then there’s Louis, who’s so enamored of our seventeen-year-old heroine, he’s not only composing a symphony for her, but is slowly regaining his sight (I called it as hysterical, psychosomatic blindness the second I read how he became blind). She’s so special, she’s almost magical, don’t you think?

Ruby is well aware of how her madonna-whore, saintly but sinning mother came to bear three children by two different married men within a year or two (but Mama was like an entrancing, mythical swamp fairy to the men she slept with, so it’s okay). Rather than take the extra effort to avoid the same mistakes, she sleeps with her boyfriend a number of times with the inevitable outcome. Boyfriend Beau strikes me as a popular guy who has that I’m invincible mind-set. He thinks nothing unfortunate can happen to him, so he presses his luck. He pressures Ruby to sleep with him, but if he cared as much as he claims to, you’d think he’d either be making regular trips to the drugstore, or, ideally, respect her wanting to slow down or wait to become intimate.

SPOILERS: Ruby’s father, Pierre, dies off-page in the middle of the book without us really knowing him. Louis heads off to Switzerland to see a specialist and attend a music conservatory. Ruby ends up pregnant and her precious boyfriend is hustled off to a foreign school. Rather than go through with a back-alley abortion arranged by her step-mother, she goes back to the bayou. Arriving at her old house with her now very wealthy half-brother Paul, her DT’ing grandfather conveniently drowns minutes later. Paul’s still in love with her, and everybody thinks he’s the father of her child. Hilariously, after refusing to leave the shack ahead of a storm, she goes into labor in the middle of a hurricane, with Paul delivering the baby. He keeps asking her to marry him.

Ruby makes piss poor decisions, so I’ve become ambivalent towards her character. If possible, it seems she’s getting dumber as the series goes on. Frustratingly, we’re led to believe she’s a talented artist, but she doesn’t do much drawing or painting in the course of this book. If she loved her art as much as we’re led to believe, it would be a big part of her life, but she’s too busy tangling up the sheets with Beau the Magnificent.

I’m hoping for more Uncle Jean. He appears briefly, but not enough, and by the end of the book, I really felt for the poor guy. And where the hell is gallery owner Dominique LeGrand? You can’t dangle him in the second or third chapter of the first book like he’s important, then drop him. Initially, Louis seemed too much of a head case, but once he started acting normal (he did mention seeing a psychiatrist) I started liking his character. I’m not really invested in Ruby and her story anymore, unless, by extension, it involves Jean and Louis. I’ve given up on Dominique having any significance. Honestly, I was hoping for more effed up Gothic stuff like the Dollanganger series, but this isn’t delivering, except for Louis. ** out of 5

 

Ruby, V.C. Andrews (1994)

Fifteen-year-old Ruby Landry, whose mother died when she was born and with no clue as to who her father is, lives a simple life with her maternal grandmother in a house on the bayou in Louisiana. They make just enough to live selling handmade crafts to tourists. Grandmere Catherine is also a healing woman, called upon by Cajun neighbors to treat maladies and injuries with her folk medicine, usually paid for with food or other useful items. Ruby, a talented and aspiring artist, occasionally sells one of her nature-themed paintings.

Ruby has a boyfriend, Paul Tate, who hails from a moneyed family, but upon a revelation from her grandmother, Ruby ends the relationship. As her grandmother’s health begins to fade, Ruby learns some startling truths about her family. Her father, Pierre Dumas, is a rich Creole in New Orleans, and she has a twin sister who was sold to him by her no-good, drunk, swamp rat grandfather. Grandmere Catherine extracts a promise from Ruby that she’ll seek out her father after she dies. Not long after, Grandma shuffles off her mortal coil, and Ruby heads to the city, escaping her vile grandfather and his loathsome plan to marry her off to a man twice her age.

Once in New Orleans, Ruby easily finds her father, who just as easily welcomes her with open arms. Her step-mother, a snobby socialite cunt, and her sister, a raging spoiled bitch, go out of their way to make the prodigal daughter’s life miserable, including a prank in which Ruby is photographed naked by some boys from school, and being admitted to a psychiatric hospital as a nymphomaniac. There’s a not-right-in-the-head uncle, and daddy Pierre is not only manic depressive (or as wife Daphne puts it, ‘suffers from melancholia’), he allows himself to be browbeaten by his domineering wife. She’s got plans to commit hubby, too. What a gal. Where’s Vera from Audrina to push a bitch or two down the stairs?

Ruby is the first of five novels in what’s known as the Landry series, and despite bearing the V.C. Andrews name, none were written by her, but rather, hired ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman. Not expecting high literature, it’s not a bad read. The beginning is a bit slow moving and could have been shorter without sacrificing anything important. Ruby comes across as a smart, caring, likable girl who’s happy living her simple life with her loving grandmother. I admit to speed reading portions, usually overly long descriptive paragraphs of the bayou or things meant to build suspense that last two pages too long because what was about to happen was telegraphed ahead of time (mental hospital). I also skim over episodes of teenage lust, sexual stirrings, and teen hearts going pit-a-pat while other parts quiver and throb because it’s usually pretty silly and meant to titillate tweens and teens.

Unlike the previous Andrews book I read and hated (actually written by her, might I add), this one had characters I liked. The grandmother, and one-time boyfriend (and full-time half-brother), Paul. I like Edgar and Nina, two of the servants in the Dumas house, and my curiosity is piqued about both institutionalized Uncle Jean and the elusive gallery owner Dominique LeGrand, who made an appearance early in the book and who I’m sure will show up again. Ruby does need to toughen up though, if she wants to be the victorious mongoose in a pit of vipers. She does exhibit some gumption from time to time, but then she loses her resolve and becomes a gullible dolt again. It’s a bit frustrating.

V.C. Andrews books, written by her or not, are what they are; melodramatic soap-operas in print form, the better ones good for wintry nights, rainy days, and lazy summer weekends. This was one of the better ones, and I’ll be continuing the series. *** out of 5