Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book 107: The Girls

"I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. 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."

Dates read: November 24-26, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Teenage girls are kind of sociopaths. I know that I was. You're just figuring out who you are and who you might want to be, trying on identities like clothes. Everything seems so black and white: you're a good girl or a bad girl, a nerd or a popular, a prude or a slut. Male attention is both terrifying and intoxicating, often at the same time. You want desperately to feel like an adult and demonstrate that you're not a child anymore without really knowing what the consequences of your actions could be. It's a wonder any of us get out of it with even somewhat-functional mental health.

Emma Cline's The Girls has been widely billed as a novel about the Manson cult, but that's not entirely accurate. It does feature a significant portion of plot about a Manson-esque group, but what it's really about, more than anything else, is the heady experience of being a 14 year-old girl. We first meet Evie Boyd as an older woman, staying briefly in a friend's beach house when she finds herself between gigs as a live-in nurse. Her friend's college-age son stops by with his teenage girlfriend, and watching them and her brings back Evie's memories of that fateful summer when she found herself around the edges of the lives of Russell (our Manson stand-in) and his pack of girls.

Evie's in an especially vulnerable spot that summer; her father has recently left her mother for a young colleague, and Evie and her longtime best friend are starting to drift apart. She's fascinated by the group of teenage hippies she sees around town, drawn to their exotic-seeming poverty so different from her own comfortable trust-funded existence (she's the granddaughter of a never-named wealthy former child star clearly modeled on Shirley Temple). Evie's particularly hypnotized by their ringleader, Suzanne, and the intensity of her infatuation finds her constantly lying and making excuses to go out to the ranch where the group lives, doing whatever she can (sex, drugs, helping the girls break into homes in her own neighborhood) to fit in and attract Suzanne's attention and praise. But eventually, as in real life, there's a grisly murder and the hazy fever dream of that summer ends, leaving Evie back in her old world.

Cline has a real gift for atmospheric, lush prose. She creates a powerful sense of mood, a feeling that every moment is weighed with portent...which goes right along with what I remember from being that age. Everything is so close to the surface, and Cline really captures those feelings of uncertainty and being right on the edge of something meaningful that characterize being that age. She also draws a picture-perfect portrait of the kind of all-consumingness of female friendships in the teenage years. It's a tricky thing to depict without devolving into cliche, but Cline really gets at the heart of that desperation to please the object of your obsession. The plot moves along fairly slowly, but the careful attention paid to creating the ambiance of teenage girlness and the rich, vivid writing more than make up for it. I don't know that this is a book that would be as successful if you've never actually been a young teenage girl and can't identify with it, but I personally really enjoyed it and would recommend it highly.

Tell me, blog you regret some of the things you did when you were 14?

One year ago, I was reading: The Wonder

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

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