Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
The Girls by Emma Cline
Publication Date: June 14, 2016 by Random House
I’ve never been so hesitant to start a book in my life. When Emma Cline’s novel was initially released in June, you couldn’t go anywhere on social media without seeing a snapshot of the cover – it felt like the most hyped up book of the summer. And when I finally read a synopsis, I immediately sensed it would be a book that I loved.
And then the reviews started coming in, many of which shared that Cline’s verbose writing style took away from any interest in the story. So then it began – I would enter a bookstore and walk around with a copy of The Girls in my hand only to talk myself out of it before leaving the store with a different purchase. On yet another trip to Barnes and Noble this month (damn you, Barnes and Noble and your 30% off discounts!), I was about to go through the same circle of self-doubt again, but this time I wasn’t alone. My internal ramblings became external and my love convinced me to buy a copy of The Girls. So if you’re reading this, thanks wifey!
I admit to having the same frustrations as a lot of readers when I started this book. Cline’s writing style is descriptive (to say the least) and there were a few moments where I wondered if I had been right to bypass the novel on all my previous bookstore excursions. Cline uses phrasal fragments (in particular, those that seemed to highlight nouns) like there’s no tomorrow – The horses I copied from a pencil drawing book, shading in their graphite manes. Tracing a picture of a bobcat carrying away a vole in its jaws, the sharp tooth of nature– and the novel as a whole could be used in a study of metaphors and similes.
And yet despite the technical difficulties, there is something in Cline’s writing that’s best described as haunting. Because the story is based on Charles Manson and his
commune cult, I essentially knew the chain of events that would occur, but Cline was still able to create a sense of unease as the story progressed towards its horrific finale. I also really appreciated Evie’s internal dialogues as both a teenager and an adult – her narration felt like an honest portrayal of what it means to be a girl/woman:
Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like “sunset” and “Paris.” Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus. Sorrow for Sasha locked up my throat.
That doesn’t mean to say that Cline speaks for all girls, but in telling Evie’s story she paints a picture of how gender can impact a person’s life, as well as the choices they make. While it is far from a typical coming-of-age novel, Cline has the ability to evoke all the universal feelings and frustrations of those years that bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood and that is ultimately what I enjoyed the most about her first novel!