Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

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3 out of 5 Historical Stars

Meh. Sadly. That is how I feel about this. I usually write my reviews as soon as I’m done, but I was so disappointed in this that I couldn’t get up the gumption to write about it. It wasn’t bad, it was just so… meh. If I don’t enjoy a book, I don’t read it. But it wasn’t bad enough to put down…but it was so meh I didn’t really want to pick it up either. It took a long time to read and it almost came due back at the electronic library before I was done (I read this as an ebook through Overdrive Library). I think that’s the only reason I picked it back up and finished it.

It started out ok. It started out like I expected. Our girl Evie is out in the world and “the girls” that are the main crux of the story wander by. They breeze into Evie’s comfortable, suburban life wearing their dirty/sexy dresses. Suzanne (who I think we all automatically assume is the guise Sexy Sadie, or Susan Atkins, is wearing in this book) attracts her immediately. In case you don’t know, The Girls are based on the Manson girls. That Manson. Like, the Manson family, of the infamous Tate-Labianca murders of the late 60’s. Being a California girl at heart, born and (mostly) raised, I’ve known all about the Manson family and the murders since I was a kid. I’m a true-crime aficionado and drank Helter Skelter in with the wine coolers of my youth. So to say I was excited about this book is a massive understatement. As the book went along, I immediately put everyone in the roles I thought they were playing, knowing the actual people from all the books, movies and docs I’ve consumed. I was surprised, though, because she didn’t draw lines between these real people and all her characters. Some are amalgams, some are unique, some are just bare whispers. It doesn’t follow the story line of the murders exactly, and I think that’s a good thing – that info is just for those of you with an interest in the case. I have no problem with that -and I knew this was a literary story, not a thriller of any kind, and I didn’t go in expecting that. But I was still disappointed.

This jumps around in time. It goes back before Evie met the girls, and then modern day, where Evie is basically house sitting for a friend while in between jobs. I didn’t care anything about the modern day storyline. It felt like a detraction. Where it really went wrong for me was that it teased me with that first brush with Suzanne and “the girls” – who are so attractive to Evie on first sight, then we then go back into Evie’s life with her best friend and we watch them try to intrigue boys. I did like what Cline was pointing out girls and girlhood – how sex and boys are thrust upon us from such a young age, and we are supposed to want fairy tale love while at the same time, boys and sex are presented as dangerous things, like drinking and fast cars. And that just bores me, as a reader. I know what teenage girlhood is about. I just find the search for sex as a teen boring, because I think there is more to youth than that. Also, the things that go on between Evie and her bestie Connie aren’t that dramatic. It smacks of mean girls, and while it might be realistic… it doesn’t make for interesting literature. Then in the modern day timeline. Evie is kind of down on her luck, staying in the house of a man who is either just an old friend or former boyfriend, not sure. But there is a dynamic going on between her, this guy’s douchebag son and his weak-willed girlfriend that I found kinda icky to read. Whenever we came into the modern day timeline,  I was instantly bored.

I was also unsure of why Evie finds these raggedy girls, one who flashes a breast in the middle of the park, attractive. At home, she’s dealing with her mother and her string of boyfriends, all who just want her for her money. Her mother is turning herself into something she’s not, grimly trying to rediscover her own youth and hooking up with serious douche canoes. Evie loathes her for this. It doesn’t make sense to me that she falls in with a group of girls in thrall to a guru.

The man in this book is Russell, and like Manson, he’s a smooth talker who can convince anyone of just about anything. He’s convinced his cadre of women that he’s this musical genius. Evie isn’t impressed with it, but she still falls in with the girls. And I guess this is about the girls… while Evie tells us she never has sex with Russell, she does perform some acts with him, but for the most part, she’s very much on the fringes of what is going on. Russell notices her, but she’s not in the heavy meat of the group. And that was kind of my problem with the whole thing. Evie’s story just isn’t interesting. There’s no danger. There’s no drama. There’s no interesting conflict. And all the women seem very weak and put upon.

I should have connected with this to the very rafters. First – it’s set in northern California where I’m from, instead of the south –  and it’s about a subject matter and group of people that have fascinated me since my youth. I know the settings the author was describing, either because I went to school in that town or because she used the physical descriptions of the place where the murders happened. I relate SO HARD to the part about the mother and the boyfriends and being shunted aside as your mom looks for someone to validate her sexually instead of finding happiness with what remains of her family. TMI? Sorry. But this didn’t strike home for me, when it seemed like a recipe that I myself would have made. Even so, the book didn’t resonate for me.

 

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