Monday, March 7, 2016
Book Review: "The Girls" by Emma Cline
There are times in our lives when we feel a powerful need to belong, to be part of something we view as bigger and more important than us. We are desperate to feel a kinship, perhaps even a spark of attraction, and these feelings are what make us feel special, make us feel worthy.
Fourteen-year-old Evie knows that desire all too well. Growing up in late-1960s California, living with her needy, insecure, lonely mother after her parents' divorce, she feels as if she is biding her time the summer before being sent to boarding school. She is bored with her one real friend, longing to be desired, to be a part of something more exciting than her humdrum existence.
And then one day she sees thema group of teenage girls in a park. To Evie they seem carefree, sophisticated, and utterly enticing, especially the apparent leader of the group, the magnetic Suzanne. It's not long before Evie finds herself pulled into the group, members of a cult who live an impoverished, commune-type existence in a dilapidated ranch up in the California hills, shepherded by a charismatic yet unstable leader, Russell, who can convince people to give the cult money, food, vehicles, drugsanything they seem to need.
For Edie, who grew up a child of some privilege, the squalor and chaos of the ranch is fascinating. She tries to make herself an integral part of the community, but even bringing them money from time to time, doesn't quite help her fit in with everyone. Yet as she becomes somewhat of a pet to Russell from time to time, it is Suzanne to whom she is drawn the most. Yet as things on the ranch begin spiraling out of control, Evie still wants to belong, even if it means being a part of something dangerous, something she doesn't quite understand.
"There are those survivors of disasters whose accounts never begin with the tornado warning or the captain announcing engine failure, but always much earlier in the timeline: an insistence that they noticed a strange quality to the sunlight that morning or excessive static in their sheets. A meaningless fight with a boyfriend. As if the presentiment of catastrophe wove itself into everything that came before. Did I miss some sign? Some internal twinge?"
This is a fascinating, disturbing story that is so well-told by Emma Cline. She truly captures Evie's nearly all-encompassing need to belong and feel wanted, and reading this book you can understand why someone like her might be willing to do something completely out of character simply to be a part of the action. Evie is a vivid character, although most of the characters around her aren't drawn as fullyyou understand Suzanne's magnetism but not what makes her tick, and Russell, while fascinating, seems like a shadowy Mansonesque figure who surfaces from time to time.
The Girls is a story about the loss of innocence and the way we sometimes glamorize those who fascinate us despite their actual behaviors. The book has a strong sense of time and place, and there is a pervasive sense of doom that hangs over the book. It's definitely one of those can't-look, can't-look-away stories where you want to know what comes next but don't want to see what comes next.