The Girls, by Emma Cline, is a writing breath of fresh air. This book, which made the 2016 Summer Reading List, was one of the most hyped books of the year. You couldn’t log on to any social media and not see someone mention this book. With that being said, going into this book, expectations were high. That can be both a good thing and bad thing. One of the things that immediately stood out to me was the quality of writing. Emma Cline’s sentences were little gifts in and of themselves. Ones that you had to go back and reread just because her thoughts were worded so beautifully. You immediately felt like your IQ and sophistication levels were going to increase simply from reading this book. Am I the only one that feels that way about certain books? It’s not that Cline’s words or sentence complexity is so great that it requires an advanced degree, but the words themselves and how they were strung together were magical.
The Girls is set during the late 1960’s and follows teenager Evie Boyd in a quasi-coming of age tale. Limited in experience, both in friendships with girls and boys, Evie is desperate to belong—to anything, to something.
“I waited to be told what was good about me. […] All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”
Evie’s desire for friendship and love lead her to fierce admiration of an exotic group of girls that occasionally made appearances in town—often dumpster diving for food to take back on their converted school bus to their ranch. Evie’s fascination with the group’s de facto leader, Suzanne, drives her quest to join their group. Soon, Evie finds herself going to and from the ranch at her whim.
“So much of desire, at that age, was a willful act. Trying so hard to slur the rough, disappointing edges of boys into the shape of someone we could love. We spoke of our desperate need for them with rote and familiar words, like we were reading lines from a play. Later I would see this: how impersonal and grasping our love was, pinging around the universe, hoping for a host to give form to our wishes.”
Evie encounters the group’s magical and mythical leader, Russell, who Cline largely based off of Charles Manson. The cult, and their characters, including the girls, all desperately seek his approval, attention, and affection. For someone who has little knowledge of the Manson cult, I know little of how to compare it. However, the events that unfolded, and Evie’s interaction with the cast of characters, along with Cline’s writing, made this book one to be read into the late hours of the night.
Told from alternating time periods, Evie in present day and Evie in the late 1960’s, The Girls delivers magnificent writing. Despite the beautiful words, I was a little underwhelmed at the conclusion of the book but perhaps the most magic in things is the journey and not necessarily the destination.