Saturday, April 16, 2016
The Girls by Emma Cline
Lonely Evie is 14 when she first sees "the girls" in the park. Fascinated by their grungy appearance and their aura of togetherness, she is drawn to them with an urgency that she doesn't understand. They seem to be so alive, so free, and Evie is desperate to get away from what she perceives as her shallow privileged existence in that limbo time between adolescence and young adulthood. Since her parents divorced, and her best girlfriend defected, Evie lacks the attention she craves and so she seeks out the apparent Queen Bee of this group, Suzanne, and is taken along to their run down ranch in the hills to meet their charismatic leader, Russell. The ranch, the group, the leader are all meant to represent Charles Manson and his "family" so the reader feels that sense of foreboding though knowing what is going to ultimately happen.
Told in flashbacks and alternating with present day when Evie is middle aged and staying in a borrowed home, the story is a stream of consciousness centered on Evie's observations about herself and about what it means to be a girl in society. It is less about the violence and the murders than it is an attempt to explain how a disenfranchised teen could become enamored of this lifestyle, seeking desperately to belong somewhere, to be a part of something significant.
In 1969, I was 13 years old -- a little younger than Evie, and living a life that was the complete opposite of hers. I didn't, nor did any of my acquaintances, have any interest or intention to drink or experiment with drugs at that age and stage of our lives (though some did later in their teens). I think this might be what made this book so hard for me to understand -- how is someone so young as Evie so messed up in her head? Granted our family situations were a lot different (mainly a ton of siblings and parents who were together), but the topic that really got me was all this about how women and girls weren't valued because of their gender. That whole issue is anathema to me. I never thought those thoughts or felt that bias personally though I wonder now if there were messages that might have been intended to make me feel that way. I was probably oblivious having specific dreams and plans -- and a supportive family. So, perhaps that means that I am not the intended audience for this novel as I fail to appreciate the angst that drove Evie to that filthy ranch and her substitute family. One thing is for certain, however, and that is the teen-aged girl's proclivity for drama. That always existed in abundance an was certainly a driving force in behavior and oftentimes ended in bad decisions.
I would guess that many young readers will have no idea, or just a vague notion, about the Sharon Tate murders and Charles Manson, though I do remember it vividly. Newspaper stories were the stuff of nightmares for many of us for years to come. The girls who came under the spell of that psycho maniac were transformed into Russell's hit squad in this novel. The author must have done a lot of research for this debut and I appreciate that.
Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this book as I know it is going to be one of those that gets a lot of focus and certainly could be the subject of many discussions and arguments. I think it is a title that will appeal to certain readers. All I can say to any parent of a teen girl -- make sure you demonstrate in every way, every day, how much she is treasured. Also, parents, I hope you always know where your children are and who they are with. Seems obvious, but so many things go wrong for kids when parents and other adults in their lives aren't paying attention. Despite her situation, and her perception of the lack of care and concern by her parents, I never felt the empathy for Evie that seems to be necessary to really love this story. Plus (possible spoiler), we are led to believe that she could have been a willing participant -- maybe -- if she had not been kicked out of the car and left at the side of the road on that fateful night of mayhem and murder.
Thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss and Random House Publishing for this e-book ARC to review.