Book: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, teenager Evie Boyd sees a group of girls in the park and is immediately struck by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. The group’s 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.”
Review: I picked up The Girls because of the hype that had surrounded the book upon it’s release. Cline’s first novel was being read by everyone and being reviewed in publications like the New York Times and NPR; the cover art is simplistic but catchy and inviting, it nearly jumped off the shelf at me. I read the synopsis and against my better judgement decided to give the book a try.
Let me explain.
The year is 2019. We have a white man for president. “Literary geniuses” are more often than not white men. White men dominate the news. In an effort to combat this, I have chosen to read only works from authors who are not white men. I picked up a book by a white woman, Emma Cline, hoping to read a fresh take on an old story. What I was bombarded with, instead, was a stale story about a white man who has been romanticized beyond exhaustion.
How many times have you seen a “new and exciting!” documentary about Charles Manson and the Manson girls? Did you watch John McNamara’s Aquarius when it debuted in 2015? Or perhaps you have noted the movie featured on Netflix “Manson Family Vacation” (again, 2015 release) or the newer documentary “Truth and Lies: The Mason Family” (2018) on Hulu. There is a trend, a fascination, a morbid desire to pick these horrific events apart piece by piece and imagine what could have led people to act the way they did.
Cline writes of a man, Russel, who has a strange hold over the people in his sphere. He speaks of love and a world without race and has seemingly deep and meaningful connections with every girl who lives with and follows him. And as every Manson story goes, if you read just a tiny bit further and delve just a little bit deeper the facade peels away and you’re left with the scum and filth underneath; a sexual predator and young girls who are so lost that they blindly follow the words of their supposed savior.
My hopes for Cline’s novel were less than high, admittedly, but I did wonder if she would perhaps refresh this fascination with Manson and rather than simply retell the story with new names attached would create her own world with new ideas and figures.
My Advice: Perhaps you haven’t seen Charles Manson’s face in the news, a swastika tattooed on his forehead and scraggly hair sprouting from his scalp. Maybe you haven’t watched any of the numerous Manson documentaries, movies, or tv shows that have picked apart the events of the Manson family so such degree that there is nothing left to scavenge. If this is the case, my advise to you is go to your local used book store and pick up a copy for $7.
If, however, this is not the case and you have indeed been privy to this sick obsession with a sexual predator who had no motive beyond his own selfish desires, there are plenty of other books out there that would be better suited for you. And if you still feel like you are missing out, watch Aquarius. It’s the same story.