Jezebel Summer of Bad Books Club: Sisterhood's a Bitch

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Jezebel Summer of Bad Books Club: Sisterhood's a Bitch

Megan: Last week, our sweet Audrina found herself faced with a choice that was, inevitably, already decided for her: her new sister, Sylvia needs a mother, and Audrina could either abandon her sister in favor of her own happiness, leaving her sister to the hands of her father; or she could step up to the challenge presented, even though she herself is not quite an adult. Audrina chose what any sister would, according to the logic of V.C. Andrews: to raise her younger sister as if she were her own, because that is simply what sisters do.

Something else that sisters simply do, apparently, is sleep with their sister’s husbands—a revelation only discovered by Audrina after Vera skips town with the piano teacher, awash in scandal. Whitefern is full of mystery, whispered half-truths, and lies rustling about in the curtains, but we finally learn some new information about Audrina’s family that puts their experiences and general dysfunction into context. When Audrina overhears her aunt and her father in the throes of a complicated, passionate argument that turns into sex, she realizes what her father has done and who Vera actually is:

Now I knew for a certainty with no more guilty speculating, just who the man was my mother had stolen from her half-sister. I also knew definitely my father was also Vera’s father. The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became about my mother. Had she deliberately stolen her older sister’s lover?

The boundaries that exist between sisters are often diffuse and can shift hourly; sisters are your best friends but also your worst enemies. This much is clearly true for the sisters in Whitefern, but at last, Audrina has clarity. Vera is her half-sister, but also, her cousin. Boundaries, you say? What are those!?

Emily: Just before Vera’s dramatic departure from Whitefern, in which she liberates herself and all of Audrina’s sweaters from gilded captivity, Vera tells her pseudo-yet-also-real sister Audrina: “With me for your friend you have the best of all possible enemies.” The statement is true in that Vera is the “best” enemy the novel provides; she singularly has the experience of having Damian Adare’s scorn with none of his love, and the unadulterated cruelty she’s experienced has made her, in turn, almost pathetically cruel. Heretofore she’s pretty ineffectually playacted the cruelty she’s experienced on anyone who attempts to get close to her in what still seems to be a desperate bid for love. She’s the most complicated character in the house and in the novel.

And the self-awareness in her statement about coveting the “villain” role at Whitefern hints at the universality of that role in novels, but also in real-life families, especially among sisters. Our roles within a family are often different from our roles in the real world, and the role one plays in relation to one’s sisters comes with a lot of fraught shit. We tend to put sisters in categories: The pretty one, the smart one, the bad one. These roles create rivalries that often have nothing to do with the sisters themselves but rather with the baggage handed to children to carry into adulthood. In My Sweet Audrina, Audrina is always good and right, making Vera always wrong and bad. And since Damian controls the money and the sisters’ lives, the only person left to fight is each other.

The idea of “sisterhood” also speaks to our ideas of womanhood as teamwork, but the fact that there’s only one top spot at Whitefern—recipient of Damian Adare’s love—puts every woman in the house on a team of one, competing with the ideal of an impossibly beautiful dead girl with is virginal, sweet, and unable to talk back. Audrina’s mother and sister fought that battle to Lucietta’s actual death, and Vera and Audrina fight it until Vera removes herself from the playing field, vowing to return one day and win by defeating Damien, thus ruining the whole game.

My Sweet Audrina is a terribly written, fragmented, and downright offensive book, but the ideas in it so closely mirror both literary and cultural tradition of the ways readers and writers think about sisters and their in-fighting, from Little Women to the Mitfords, that the novel is almost like a disjointed nightmare throwing up realistic no-win situations with which woman are all-too-familiar, in feverish, melodramatic ways, making the entire experience satisfyingly Gothic and unsettling.

Next week, I’d like to explore VC Andrews’s fascination with martyrdom and Audrina as the female Gothic Jesus. So my question is: If Damien Adare is the god of Whitefern, what does that make everyone else?

Exciting update, also—by the next time we meet for discussion, we will have finished the book! We’ll finally have all the answers to our questions. Peace, at last.

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