The Girls by Emma Cline is set in 1969, when an adolescent girl, Evie Boyd, joins a cult reminiscent of the cult run by Charles Manson. The thing is, the story is very much not about that, at least not to me. There is sex, drugs, and murder, but I am left re-reading the lines between all that, the lines that depict the utter beauty in life’s mundanities. This novel makes me nostalgic for experiences that are not my own, and that is something I have never before experienced.
Cline’s words are so smooth and thought-provoking that I am compelled to call them sexy. I fell in love with sentences time and time again, revisiting them constantly and falling deeper into the poetic, rhythmic turns of phrase. It’s not often that you come across a read like this that makes your remember how lovely worlds truly are. Her dreamy, yet eerie tone drew me in on page one and has yet to let me go. Words are so much more than vehicles to propel a narrative, and this is the perfect reminder.
The portrait of Evie Boyd’s unconventional yet unremarkable life as a young girl growing up in Northern California perfectly captures all of the tiny nuances of that painfully awkward stage of being. Through Evie, the reader is forced to remember a sense of longing we have all felt: a craving for affirmation, attention, or affection, or all of the above. Rather, just a constant state of craving without one specific vice. Oh, to be young again.
Evie resides in a wealthy neighbourhood with her mother, while her father lives a couple hours away with his 20-something assistant-turned-girlfriend, Tamar. After her father’s departure, Evie’s mother seeks salvation from her grief and low self-esteem through various sudo-scientific and sudo-spiritual means and people. Neither of her parents worked throughout her upbringing, they simply lived on the fortune of her once-famous maternal grandmother. As a result of her dysfunctional upbringing, Evie is old beyond her years, in some senses, and emotionally stunted in others. She perceives the world through both the eyes of a naive pre-teen and the jaded pessimism of an adult who has seen too much. Evie’s gaze is both romantic and realistic, and through her understanding of her surrounding, Cline has written some of the most hauntingly descriptive passages. For me, this novel’s narrative falls secondary to the words driving it.
Evie has two fleeting interactions with a girl (a woman, in Evie’s eyes) who is unlike anyone she has ever come across. Susan’s self-confidence, freedom, and carefree nature leaves Evie awe-struck from the moment she sees her. Throughout the novel, it is Evie’s deep-rooted longing for Susan that adds what, in my opinion, is the only authentic love among the hollow, insincere relationships around them. Evie wants to be seen, loved, missed, longed for, and taken seriously. Though these longings are all encompassing in Evie’s every action, it is the discovery of her muse that brings them all to the forefront. It’s never fully apparent if Evie’s infatuation with Susan is romantic, sexual, or friend-like, but perhaps this is because it is all of the above.
It is because of Susan, primarily, that Evie first arrives at the Manson-like cult grounds, “The Ranch,” but it is Russell, the Manson-like figure that keeps everyone else there. In the end, there are murders, we know this from the get-go, but it is Evie’s relationship to the final event and the events leading up to it that is so intriguing. This is the story of man and his cult, but he is such a peripheral character in relation to his girls.
The Girls is chilling in the best kind of way. Please, do not let its seemingly horrific contents deter you. I promise, this is a must-read. I have missed this book since the moment I finished it, its storyline and characters being a comfort in my life throughout my journey reading it. I know you’ll love it because I did profoundly.
Read along with the Dote Book Club with our June selection, The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall.
Written by ::Britanny Burr / @britburr