This one is a bit of a trip y’all.
I have literally just finished The Girls by Emma Cline. I know what you’re thinking, reading a book that’s relatively new and current? Who are you and where is Allison?
Fear not, it’s still me. But I don’t blame you for your surprise, normally I’m behind by about a year. Part of it is because I rarely believe the hype about anything. And then there’s the other, larger, reason I don’t normally read popular new novels. They’re expensive. I know, I know. But I read very quickly, do I really want to pay for a hardback that I’m going to read in one day if I’m not sure it’s quality? Fortunately for us, this novel was offered during a cyber Monday deal so your girl got her hands on it.
And thank goodness for that.
So let’s get down to business (Disney reference here). I assumed before reading this novel that it was only loosely based on actual events. It is not. Cline’s The Girls is based very closely on Charles Manson and his “family”. But there are still enough differences that it’s interesting.
Our narrator, Evie, is a middle aged woman drifting through life. She is currently between jobs and runs into her friend’s son and his girlfriend. During introductions, the young man mentions that Evie was in a cult. From there, it’s a mix of flash backs to 1969 and Evie getting to know the youngsters. Evie sees bits of her younger self in the girlfriend.
The flash backs reveal a lonely child with dysfunctional divorced parents, unhappy with her life. (Mind you, she’s 14 at this time.) Evie ends up alone at a park where she sees a group of girls who are separated by their ethereal beauty. They appear carefree and she’s drawn to them instantly.
They befriend her and she becomes particularly attached to an older girl, Suzanne. There is plenty of sex, drinking and drugs to be found, as well as petty crimes. -Ok I know I just said plenty but I should have used the word excessive. I know it was Northern California in 1969 but come on.
They take Evie back to their ‘ranch’ and things go downhill from there. She meets the leader of the group, Russell, a deity among mortals. Russell befriends a famous musician hoping for a record deal of his own. The famous musician falls through and Russell starts sending him messages that he shouldn’t go back on his deal. Then he sends some of his followers to deliver a message that won’t be ignored. Four people (including the grounds keeper, a mother, and son) are murdered. The victims do not include the musician as he was out of town. Sound familiar?
But as I said before, Cline included differences. Russell isn’t anticipating an end of times, he didn’t try to start a race war, and he is more gentle with his girls then I’ve read Manson was. It was also an interesting read as Evie was much more obsessed with Suzanne then she ever was with Russell.
Spolierrrrrr Alertttttt ****** Evie was in the car on the way to the murders. Suzanne makes her get out before they get to the house and Evie is crushed. She didn’t know where they were headed. She goes on to live a relatively normal life, except she’s hung up on the fact that if she had stayed in the car she probably would have participated.
As for the actual writing, it was extra. It was beautiful in many places but it was so stylized that it became a burden to read. I imagine Cline did that intentionally but it certainly isn’t my favorite style. Maybe Cline was trying to capture the spirit of the era? Or something?
Also, I understand that being separated many years from the events colored Evie’s retelling. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t annoying when she would state an emotion and then follow it with an immediate contradiction; “later I identified it as xyz.” I know it’s realistic but it was annoying to read repeatedly.
It was sad to think of her loneliness being intentionally taken advantage of, and even more sad to know that that sort of thing happens in real life.
On the whole the story seemed surreal and disturbing, much like the actual events. I was bummed to see how much of this story was replicated (which seems a bit like cheating) but there were still differences and over all it was interesting.
So read it and let me know what you think, there’s nothing I love more then a good literary discussion. And I do mean nothing.