When I saw The Girls popping up everywhere, I had no idea of the hype behind this book. Debut author Emma Cline was given buckets of money for her fictionalized version of the Manson family. Not knowing this, I wondered what the hub-bub was about.
The Girls begins with now middle aged Evie staying at a friend's summer home. Her solitude is interrupted by the appearance of her host's son and his girlfriend. The girl seems to be much younger than the guy, and a little in awe of him. The young man brags to his girlfriend that Evie was once part of a murderous cult that was responsible for the deaths of four people, including a five year old boy.
It's a startling revelation. Is Evie someone to be trusted?
The story then switches to a fourteen year old Evie in the summer of 1969. Her parents just divorced, her dad living with a young girlfriend, her mom trying to "find herself" through gurus and new men, Evie is left to her own devices. She spends most of her time getting high with her only friend, Connie, until they have a falling out.
Evie becomes enamoured with an older girl named Suzanne who she meets in a park where Suzanne and some other girls are rummaging through trash for food. There is something about her that appeals to Evie. There's a savageness underneath her beautiful surface that speaks to the anger within the fourteen year old.
Evie attaches herself to the group. They take her to the ranch where Russell, the man that "takes care" of them brought the group. He does very little other than spout a bunch of nonsense and play guitar, but they hang on his every word. Evie goes along with whatever Russell wants, but it's Suzanne that she really follows. For Evie, there is freedom underneath the dirt and squalor of the ranch. It's a paradise of easy sex and drugs, where everyone shares and no one owns anything or anyone- except Russell, that is.
After a series of disappointments, tensions start to rise at the ranch. How far will Evie go to fit in?
It was a shaky start for me when I read the first couple of chapters. I didn't like the spoiled Evie, her parents, her parents awful friends, or the assholes Evie hung out with. I realize now that this is the point, but at the time I had enough of them. I set it aside for a few days.
I picked it up again and the story became more interesting once Evie meets Suzanne. She must have been desperate for attention to see past the squalor. They lived such a different life from Evie with her comforts... like plumbing. Evie is a rich girl and the group quickly learn how to exploit her. Evie would give them anything, just to feel she belongs.
It's more complex than that even. Evie feels a sort of new power. She feels that she has some control over her life. She lies, she learns to manipulate, she does things that would shock her parents. Being with the girls is exhilarating.
|Everyday is a hippie dance party|
After reading The Girls, I started listening to the Charles Manson's Hollywood episodes of You Must Remember This. It's as if Cline took the real events wrote them on cards and picked from the deck to plot the novel. Some of it is dead on, some tweaked slightly, and some left out altogether. I did not find Russell to be as much of a compelling character as his real life counterpart. And maybe Evie didn't either. For her it was all Suzanne.
Russell and his ambitions are in the background. Although the girls follow him, underneath is a rage at the world and the small humiliations of being female. In a way, I was reminded of that scene in The Handmaid's Tale where the handmaids attack the rapist instead of their captors. There is a misplaced anger that turns to violence in both novels. If someone can harness a woman's rage, look out!
If you are thinking of reading The Girls, I would tell you that this isn't just another murder-cult story. It's a coming of age story gone bad, a story of girlhood and womanhood. If you hate the first few chapters, hang in there. I think it's worth it.
About the Audio: Cady McClain narrates The Girls. My favorite parts were of the hippie girls' dialogue and their far-out inflections, especially when they are talking to a square who just doesn't get it, "Jeeeeeeeeesus." They're just, like, on a whole other plain, man.Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.