The Girls by Emma Cline; 2016
Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, was one of the hot, heavily promoted books of this summer. Probs because Random House took a $2 mill chance on it. Evie Boyd is fourteen in the summer of 1969. She lives with her very recently divorced mother in the farm lands of Northern California; her grandmother was an actress, and they live off of her money. Evie is quiet and introspective, with really only one friend, Connie. Like most fourteen-year-olds, Evie feels misunderstood. At the beginning of the summer she encounters Suzanne, who seems dangerous and free. Soon, Evie is completely enthralled with Suzanne and becomes involved with “the ranch,” hidden deep in the California hills. The ranch is the home to a soon-to-be infamous cult, led by the enigmatic Russell.
The Girls is creepy and disturbing in a very unique way. It’s about the unnervingly truthful malleability of being a teenage girl, as well the violence that’s buried in probably all of us and what it takes to make that violence unleash. AKA truths that we probably don’t really want to acknowledge. It’s gritty in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable. The girls on the ranch are essentially empty shells, molding into whatever Russell wants them to be. The decay of the ranch and the mounting malnourish, drug-fueled insanity of the ranchers was really well done and distrubing. While I couldn’t relate to Evie, nor could I fully understand the motivations of her character, Cline did a good job of convincing me that this kind of behavior was plausible. When I was fourteen I was like, probably still wearing Aeropostale graphic tees, Red Robin was my vice, and I was certainly not thinking about running off to join a cult. Regardless, Cline made Evie’s world convincing to the reader. The keyword for this novel is atmosphere. Cline’s writing is on point, and she masterfully captures this violent, gritty summer.
The Girls makes a much broader statement about how women v. men conduct themselves in society. Actually, the last page stuck with me the most. Evie is middle aged, walking down the beach near nightfall. A man is coming toward her and she braces herself to be harassed; she is a woman, alone, close to dark. It turns out that the man is harmless, just walking along the beach at night. Evie is fine. But this scene rang true to me more than anything else in the novel.