Publisher: Random House (June 14, 2016)
Description from the Publisher:
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.
This book bowled me over in SO MANY ways! It's not at all what I would normally gravitate towards: a fictional take on the Manson Family, or a novel described as 'gorgeously written' (which, for me, is usually code for BORING). This was not at all the case for The Girls. The story of Evie's adolescence, and eventual assimilation into a cult, is told in such a hypnotic and intense way. It bounces back and forth between present day, middle aged Evie looking back on her fourteen year old self in the late 60s. Each perspective would switch on a bit of a cliffhanger, pushing me to read well past my bedtime.
Cline's stark portrait of a troubled teen girl was uncomfortably intimate and spot on. Highly sexualized, melancholy, gritty and hard to read at times, it reminded me a great deal of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. That awful and intense time of life can be hard to put into words, but these writers have manged it beautifully.
"...it was an age when I often conflated liking people with feeling nervous around them."
It also served as a brilliant trove of feminist observations, especially from the present day Evie when she interacts with the similarly self conscious teen Sasha, with whom she's thrown together.
"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."
And ultimately, it gave a preternatural look into the psyche of what might have made these girls so vulnerable, so willing to give up their lives for this disturbing one, for this man.
"Suzanne and the other girls had stopped being able to make certain judgments, the unused muscle of their ego growing slack and useless. It had been so long since any of them had occupied a world where right and wrong existed in any real way. Whatever instincts they'd ever had- the weak twinge in the gut, a gnaw of concern - had become inaudible. If those instincts had ever been detectable at all."
The narrative preyed on my morbid curiosity and made me fascinated, and ultimately horrified by the real life events it was based upon. I found myself googling Charles Manson, trying to compare the fictional Russell.
It's not for the faint of heart, but it's so very worthwhile - definitely on my list of top books for the year.