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Literature / If There Be Thorns

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Out of the ashes of evil Chris and Cathy made such a loving home for their splendid children...note 

It is their story now, Jory's and Bart's, and they will tell it as they knew it.
—Prologue, If There Be Thorns

If There Be Thorns, by V. C. Andrews, published in 1981, is the third book in the Dollanganger Series. It is told from the point-of-view of Cathy's sons Jory and Bart, notably the only book written by Andrews herself to be told from a male POV.

In an effort to leave their past behind them, Chris and Cathy move to California and live as man and wife under the name of Sheffield, along with Cathy's sons from two other men: handsome, talented Jory and lonely, confused Bart. Cathy tries to create a normal life for her sons, but she lives in terror of the day that the family's secret is discovered. The boys suspect something strange is happening in their home, but Bart, already mentally troubled, begins to withdraw from the family. Instead, he finds comfort with the mysterious woman next door, who invites him over for cookies and cake and asks him to call her "Grandmother." But the Woman in Black is accompanied by her sinister butler John Amos, who feeds Bart's darkest fears by convincing him that his mother is the worst kind of sinner, and that the only redemption for sinners is death...

As his family begins to shatter all around him, as his younger brother slowly becomes possessed by a dark religious need for vengeance and power, Jory becomes determined to learn the strange secret of the woman next door... the same secret that seems to involve his parents.

For the 2015 Lifetime Movie of the Week see If There Be Thorns.

Tropes associated with the novel include:

  • Adoption Diss: Bart frequenly to his adopted sister Cindy.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Very briefly a Conversed Trope
    Jory: [jokingly] Yes, Mother, I know your lesson by heart. Melodie is a sweet, nice, innocent girl who would be insulted if I took advantage of her, so I'll insult her by not taking advantage.
  • Artistic License – Law: In the conclusion of the previous book, Corinne is found incapable of standing trial due to insanity and is confined to a mental institution, where the family (or, well, just Chris) has visited her for the past ten years. This is very, very different from being found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity and committed to a mental institution. If she was found incapable, she would have gone to a mental institution until she was deemed fit to stand trial. If she had been tried and found NGRI, she would have been committed to a mental institution, where she would have remained until determined fit to be released. But Cathy makes it clear that Corinne was never tried, implying that Corinne spent a decade in a mental ward, recovered her sanity, and was simply released without ever going to court.
  • Back from the Dead: Or rather, back from the insane asylum. The Sheffield family does not know that Corinne has been released until she moves into the house next door.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    Grew tired of pretending to be Malcolm. But the trouble was, I was losing the real me. Now I wasn't Bart all the way through. And now that he was slipping away, suddenly Bart didn't seem nearly as stupid and pitiful as he once had.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Jory really does love his difficult little brother and want to help him, even if he doesn't always know how to do that.
  • Big Friendly Dog/Fuzz Therapy: Corrine thinks that Bart—a lonely boy who feels unloved—needs A Boy and His Dog plot, so she gets him Apple. At the end of the book, there's mention that they got another dog.
  • Blank Book: Malcolm's journal in the end.
  • Blunt "Yes": At one point Corrine asks Chris if he and Cathy are just living as married outwardly (it's not entirely clear what she's imaging, a Marriage of Convenience?) or if they're actually married. Chris tells her the truth out of spite.
    Corrine: [whisper] I have to ask something. Do you love her as a man loves… a wife?
    Chris: [turns his back to her] That is none of your business.
    Corrine: But I'd understand. I question Bart but he doesn't know what I mean. But he's told me you share one bedroom.
    Chris: [flaring, glaring at her] And one bed. Now, are you satisfied? [spins on his heel and leaves]
  • Broken Pedestal: Poor Jory suffers a triple-whammy regarding all three of his parental figures: Towards Chris and Cathy when he finds out they're siblings, and towards biological father Julian when he overhears Cathy revealing that he was an unfaithful, horribly-abusive Jerkass.
  • Calling The Old Lady Out: Cathy and Chris both do this, in two separate scenes.
  • Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting: Cathy and Chris are both determined to do this. While they aren’t always the best parents to Bart, they both really love him and are sincerely trying.
  • Call to Agriculture: Bart remarks that both of his parents have green thumbs. After all their time in their paper attic flower garden, Chris and Cathy grow a real garden and enjoy it—good for them.
  • Career-Ending Injury: A knee injury lands Cathy in a wheelchair. While she does walk again, she is forbidden to dance for the rest of her life.
    Cathy: Years ago Madame Marisha told me there would be no life for me without dancing, and I denied this was so. Now I'm going to have the chance to find out.
    Chris: Cathy, what about that book you said you were going to write? This is a good time to start…
  • Character Filibuster: Jory overhears his parents having a fight in the middle of the night. Chris says a few things, mostly at the beginning, but pretty quickly in turns into a wild, multi-page monologue by Cathy, during which Chris gets very quiet. During the course of it, she flips on the dime many times, trying a whole laundry list of emotional strategies to try to hurt, shame, guilt, or otherwise manipulate Chris into capitulating. The topic of their fight is whether or not adopting a little girl is a good idea, but Cathy actually says very little on that topic. Instead, it runs the whole gamut of their life together, pulling out all sorts of old baggage that's not remotely relevant, but is hurtful. Chris says nothing for most of it—some mix of Stunned Silence and knowing that nothing he says is going to be productive at this point. That only makes Cathy try even harder to provoke him into some sort of response.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover illustrator made the black-haired Jory blond.
  • Creepy Child: Bart starts off merely lonely, awkward, and confused and gradually becomes more dangerous. It's unclear if he's just extremely imaginative and fantasy-prone or an actual psychotic. Jory is very aware his brother has something going on. Lack of parental attention and John Amos pouring poison in his ear certainly doesn't help, but that doesn't appear to be the root cause either.
  • Creepy Housekeeper/Old Retainer: John Amos, a cousin of Olivia Winfield Foxworth who served as the butler at Foxworth Hall, is now butler to Corinne. He's not just her butler; he's also her third husband.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Upon learning that his dead biological father was a powerful, handsome, and courageous lawyer, Bart immediately identifies with him to the point that he throws aside his living parents.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male:
    • During a very heated fight, Cathy slaps Chris across the face and deliberately tries to goad him into hitting her in return. He won't. Jory—who is overhearing all this—says that if Chris actually did, he would step in and stop him. This particular situation is made more complicated by two things which Jory doesn't yet know: a) the fact that Cathy's first husband, Julian, was physically abusive, and b) the one time that Chris did physically hurt Cathy when he raped her when they were 17 and 15, which he instantly regretted. Within the context of their relationship, both of these factors would make Chris hitting Cathy far weightier than the inverse.
    • Bart, in the middle of a tantrum, throws a rock at Emma and hits her. Cathy is livid, and tells him he must never hit a woman. He proceeds to try to bite her, and then she slaps him repeatedly.
      Cathy: Don't you ever throw another stone as long as you live, or use your fists on another woman!
  • Everyone Can See It: Madame Marisha is not exactly surprised to learn Cathy married her brother.
    Madame Marisha: Damn you, Catherine, for not listening. I guessed a long time ago that in time you would succumb to your brother's adoration. I thought even when you married your Dr. Paul that you and your brother… well, never mind what I thought,
  • Evil Old Folks: John Amos is deliberately manipulative of confused young Bart and contributes to his growing mental illness. Corinne's evil is largely in the past, but her efforts to make amends unintentionally make things much, much worse.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Jory and Bart are floored to learn that their stepfather Chris is actually their uncle. Once he gets his head around it, Jory is actually happy because he loves Chris and always wished he was a "real" blood relation rather than just a step one.
  • Groin Attack: Bart gets one in (by accident) to his brother, and Cathy dishes on out (on purpose) to John Amos.
  • Happily Married: Cathy and Chris's relationship is a realistically complicated version of the trope. They certainly have their problems, and they sometimes have huge, serious fights. Corrine remains a point of contention between them. Cathy occasionally show signs that she might be on the brink of perpetuating the abuse they suffered as children, which scares the shit out of Chris. During fights Cathy can be really mean, bringing up all sorts of old baggage just to hurt him, physically hitting him, and channeling Corrine in a way that's terrifying. Yet their problems don't bog them down or define their relationship. They overall have a mostly happy life together. They understand each other's trauma in a way no one else would, and can respond to each other accordingly. Chris calls Cathy out on her shit when needed. They comfort each other when old pain reemerges. They enjoy working in the garden together. They've been married for 7 years and still ravenous for each other.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: During her wild midnight tirade, Cathy tries to goad Chris into fighting back, and at end, even hitting her. He refuses and is staunchly, infuriatingly non-reactive in response.
    Cathy: Why don't you hit me, Chris? God knows I've given you reason enough tonight. […] So yell at me, Chris! Strike out and hit me! Scream as I'm screaming and show you're human!
  • Hypocrite:
    • Even before Garden of Shadows spelled it out, Bart notices that despite Malcolm's journal making a big deal about the whole religious part, there's an awful lot of mush and talk of doing what he considered evil in the journal.
    • To another degree so is John Amos. While he tries to mold Bart into being "like Malcolm", he also tries to impart him to not be dragged down by Malcolm's weaknesses (aka women). This of course may sound like a strong twisted religious motivation but comes off less sincere when characters remember how John Amos himself loved to frolic on the couch with plenty of maids at Foxworth Hall.
  • Hysterical Woman: During her wild midnight fight with Chris, Cathy seems to be channeling this. She genuinely is really worked up… but the way she flips on the dime, trying new angles of attack when the old one doesn't work, suggests she's more intentional and in control of herself than she presents as.
  • Incest Subtext: Cathy's relationships with her sons actually have less incest subtext than most of the parent-child relationships these books—but that is not to say they have none. In their production of Coppélia, invokedJory's character proposes to Cathy's.
  • Infant Sibling Jealousy: Bart is wildly jealous of Cindy, the 2-year-old his mother adopts and lavishes attention over.
  • Invisible Parents: While physically present throughout the novel, Cathy and Chris are so frequently wrapped up in their own issues that Jory, age 14, takes it upon himself to deal with his younger brother's growing mental instability.
  • I'm Going to Disney World!: Disneyland rather than Disney World, but this is Bart's promised birthday treat, and a running thread.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: Cathy and Chris—at least, Jory attributes it as such. This is about 7 years into their marriage, so mathematically it's a bit of a stretch. A more truthful explanation might be that this is simply the nature of their relationship, thanks to the whole Forbidden Fruit thing.
    Jory: It's love. They're still like honeymooners. Remember, Chris is our mom's third husband, and the bloom hasn't worn off.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: While wheelchair-bound, Cathy begins to write her life story: Flowers in the Attic, down to having the same chapter titles.
  • Jealous Parent: During their wild midnight fight, Cathy accuses Chris of not wanting to adopt Cindy because another child would siphon off some of Cathy's attention, which he wants all to himself. But Cathy's just accusing him of anything and everything she can think of at this point—there's no indication it's actually true.
    Cathy: Still you want me for yourself, thinking two sons are enough to get in the way of our privacy, and another child might bring down our house of cheating cards.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Jory's grandmother is made out to be a bitch for threatening to take Jory away from Cathy and Chris—but she's rightfully concerned about him being raised this household with all the drama that's going on.
  • Maternal Impression: Cathy's most vengeful traits begin to be exhibited by Bart—the son she conceived in an act of revenge.
    Cathy: The child of my revenge.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Bart felt this way even when he was the youngest child in the family. And then Cathy adopts two-year-old Cindy and turns him into the actual middle child of the family.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Cathy takes the end of her dancing career to become a writer.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Corinne returns hoping to reunite and make her family happy again. The only things she accomplish is tearing the family apart even more, killing herself and turning Bart into a copy of her own crazy father, Malcolm.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: In contrast to the Sex Is Evil mentality of the Foxworth clan, in their household, Chris and Cathy take a stance that isn't quite Sex Is Good, but more Sex Is Neutral—their kids know it happens, and it's ok. Still, Jory and Bart find it a bit uncomfortable since they are their parents. It’s also worth pointing out that Chris and Cathy are pretty into PDA, and have taught the kids never to come into their room if the door is closed, because they might be having sex. At one point, Jory goes to his parents room in the middle of the night to tell them he suspects his dog is dead, but they're naked under the sheet so Jory gets uncomfortable and leaves without a word. He says in his narration that he rationally knows there's nothing wrong with sex, but it's still kinda weird.
  • Pushover Parents:
    • On the whole, Cathy and Chris try not to punish Bart much, even when he's being a little shit. They have a lot of feelings about parents wielding their power over their kids, and don't want to be like that. Jory thinks that they take it too far, and that Bart would benefit from them being a bit harsher.
    • Briefly subverted in a moment when Cathy finally snaps after Bart physically attacks Cindy, and she sends him to the attic. Bart is up there for a few hours at most, until Chris comes home and deals with it. Cathy and Chris see this as a big deal, and Chris gets really upset. From a Rule of Symbolism standpoint, this is seriously out of line—nothing warrants putting your kids in the attic, nothing. Bart—not having the benefit of context—doesn't take it this way, and sees it only as slightly more severe than being sent to his room.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Corrine dies saving Cathy's life. At the funeral, Cathy breaks down and finally forgives her mother for what she did.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Cindy looks an awful lot like Carrie did as a child.
  • Retcon: An interesting Subvertion or Invertion. Cathy—in the way she talks about it after the fact, both in Flowers and Petals—has more or less personally retconed that time Chris raped her into something at least mostly-consensual. But in Thorns, this is clearly framed as Cathy's view, not the series's view. When Jory reads that scene in his mother's transcript of Flowers, he calls it rape and is absolutely horrified that his father could do such a thing.
    Jory's interval monologue: That this man beside me could rape his own sister when she was only fifteen was beyond my comprehension, beyond my ability to sympathize no matter how desperate his need had been, or what the circumstances had been to drive him to commit such an unholy act.
  • Ripping Off the String of Pearls: To Cathy, Corrine's string of pearls with its diamond butterfly clasp represents all the material luxury she gained by sacrificing her children. As soon as she spots it, Cathy tears it off her mother's neck.
  • Road Apples: Amazingly, used as a plot point.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Chris has always talked in a way that is sometimes flowery and sometimes just plain weird. Hilariously lampshaded when—as a parent—he gives his sons a new word to learn each day, to expand their vocabularies.
    Chris: The world belongs to those who know how to speak well, and fortunes are made by those who write well.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny:
    • John Amos, as while he is a religious fanatic it is also recounted how he did plenty of sleeping around with maids at Foxworth Hall.
    • Malcolm also has implications of being this. See the hypocrite entry above.
    • John Amos tries to impart this lesson to Bart, but Bart is only 10, and isn't horny, and so he takes it kind of... weird.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Jory oversees his parents having a very heated fight in the middle of the night, which turns into a very heated... something else. He has a moment of Parental Sexuality Squick.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Averted Trope. Cathy is aware that if they were to adopt a child through an adoption agency, their family would be investigated. She negotiates a contract with Cindy's dying mother to make Cathy the child's guardian. However, even this private arrangement would rightly warrant an investigation in Real Life.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Inverted Trope: Cathy's two biological sons take after their dark-haired fathers. Her adopted daughter, in contrast, looks strikingly like her by shear coincidence.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Nicole, one of Cathy’s students, is a single mother of a 2-year-old daughter. Chris is very wary of involving more people in their messy family, and is worried about being investigated for adoption reasons. But when Nicole is on her deathbed and pulls this trope, he relents.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: The title, if you think about it too hard.
  • Teen Pregnancy: An understated example. Cathy's dying student Nicole is only nineteen years old but has a two-year-old daughter, which would mean Nicole got pregnant when she was around fifteen or sixteen.
  • There Are No Therapists: Subverted. It's not entirely successful, but Bart is taken to a child psychologist. The first one actually has a few useful insights—for example, how Bart hates himself and thus finds it hard to believe his family genuinely loves him either. But Bart doesn't like that psychologist, and so they then take him to a second psychologist, who doesn't seem to yield much.
  • Time Skip: It takes place about 7 years after after Petals on the Wind.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Bart tries, but—being a toddler—Cindy doesn't care.
  • The Unfavorite: Bart. He's awkward and clumsy compared to ballet star Jory. It only gets worse when little Cindy is adopted into the family. This lack of attention in turn makes him more difficult, to the point where his mother is sometimes literally afraid of him, making it a vicious cycle.
    Cathy: Chris, I don't understand Bart at all, the way he talks, the way he moves, or even how he looks. I feel afraid of my own son, and that's sick.
  • Wedding Deadline: Implied Trope. Cathy describes Chris serving as the best man in her wedding to Paul, giving her a Longing Look halfway through the ceremony, hoping she wouldn't go through with it.
    Cathy: Remember the afternoon I married Paul? Remember? Think of the moment when you handed me the ring he put on my finger. You hesitated so long the minister had to urge you with a whisper. And all the time you were pleading with your eyes.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Chris gives it to Cathy on two separate occasions. We do not put our children the attic! Ever! Under any circumstances!
  • You Owe Me: For the most part this is the motivation of John Amos. Who felt he would have had the Foxworth fortune had Corrine not come home. As a result a lot of his actions in this book, including some of which would be implied as lies by Garden of Shadows, are to get himself back into the position he felt he has been owed.
  • You Remind Me of X: During her wild, middle-of-the-night fight with Chris, Cathy is heavily channeling her mother. She goes so far as to lampshade it in hopes of provoking Chris into some sort of reaction.
    Cathy: Look at me, Christopher. Who do I remind you of? [Beat] Come on, say it—I'm like her, right? This is the way she was that last night in Foxworth Hall when the guests were there swarming about the Christmas tree in the ballroom, and in the library she was screaming as I'm screaming now!