Wow. What a quirky, quick read. The girls: a novel by Emma Cline captured my attention With its cover and piqued my interest with its praise but I finally picked it up once I read the synopsis. As an enjoyer of true crime shows and dramas, and a love of Capote’s In cold blood, this book was a perfect fun read for me. Since it is also about a young girl growing up fast and becoming more adult sooner than she should have to, it reminiscent of Lullabies for little criminals, although this novel is no where near as bleak or dismal of a life.
Cline’s writing style reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s short, sparse, tactile sentences. On the page, they look so simple and plain, yet they convey a lot of story within them. For example, this paragraph covers much more in the periphery around the text beyond just what is written:
I imagined Suzanne and the others would be happy with me for bringing this new person. Expanding our ranks, all the old tricks. A pie-faced admirer to raise his voice with ours and contribute to the food pool. But it was something else, too, that I wanted to extend: the taut and pleasant silence in the car, the stale heat raising vapors of leather. The warped image of myself in the side mirrors, so I caught only the quantity of hair, the freckled skin of my shoulder. I took on the shape of a girl. The car crossed the bridge, passing through the shit-stench veil of the landfill. I could see the span of another distant highway, sided by water, and the marshy flats before the sudden drop into the valley, the ranch hidden in its hills.
The type of novel that best describes The girls is a coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old girl in the late 1960s in California. But that alone doesn’t do the novel justice because the plot of the story is her experience and involvement with a cult that commits a horrific, brutal, multi-casuality murder in the name of their leader Russell. It’s clear that the inspiration for the story is Charles Manson and the Manson murders yet Cline makes this story her own with its unique qualities and characters. Evie, the main character, narrowly avoids committing the murders, unbeknownst to her. This of course affects the rest of her life, always hinging on the worry of “what if” and “would I have” constantly replaying over and over in her mind. There is also an unending fear of harm from others, as she realizes that anyone at anytime can be violent, which leads her to like with another constant fear of being a potential victim. Her morality is clear and yet at the ranch with Russell, her chosen role-model Suzanne, and the others, she stifled it on purpose and put on self-created blinders as she wanted to badly to be a part of their rag-tag, misfit family.
The inner turmoil becomes apparent as the novel progresses. This paired with the no-nonsense writing style gives the novel a sense of honesty as Evie sorts through her past experiences as an adult, trying to understand what happened better. The story itself is written in first person, bringing the reader closer to Evie, and it switches between present day and her past which shows how these memories are triggered and continue to affect her current being and responses to the world. She clearly is not over the fact that her “friends” committed this terrible crime, her guilt of knowing, and her inner struggle of whether she would have joined in or maybe even stopped them from committing the murders.
From the beginning, the murders are key but through the novel they never take center stage. Small details creep in here and there. Sure, there is a few sentence about the gore of the crime and the acts perpetrated but it is never the focus. The sense that the reader gets is that the public know all of the details and so the reader does too, and any facts that Evie recounts are just her memories surfacing as she deals with them.
Recommended?: Yes. I’m sure that most people would really enjoy it. There are some illegal activities of the underage minors and brief descriptions about few forced sexual acts and murder details but for the most part it is just a story about teenage struggles growing up during a time in which kids had more freedom to roam and less parental monitoring (especially since technology isn’t what it is today). It’s also a pretty quick read and the main character is sympathetic so it is easy to care about her and desire to understand her past along with her.
P.S. I sure am getting use out of my public library! The next few reviews will be from there as well–I had a compulsion of book borrowing recently and need to get through them all before they are due!