Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Girls is Terrifyingly Good

Product DetailsI sat alone in my living room in Massachusetts. I was at a critical point in Vincent Bugliosi's "Helter, Skelter." Suddenly all the lights in the house, and I later learned, the entire neighborhood, went out. There was no doubt in my mind that Charles Manson had discerned that I was reading about him, about the electric power that he held over his girls, and that he was sending me a message. I was paralyzed when the neighbors, brandishing flashlights, knocked on the door offering help.

That feeling of helpless paralysis in the face of evil overwhelmed me all over again as I raced through "The Girls," the riveting debut novel from Emma Cline (https://emmacline.com). How, I ask myself for the hundredth time, does someone so young in life experience express herself so maturely? It's as if she holds the wisdom of the ages in her heart.

It's the late '60's in northern California. The "summer of love," is past its heyday. Fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd is bored with her old friends. She's at that awful, hormonal, gawky stage that can be so painful and lonely and neither of her divorced parents has time to worry about Evie's angst as they're trying to rebuild their own lives. This is the stage in a young woman's life where one wrong decision will have ripple effects for years down the road.

Emma Cline places the reader firmly inside Evie's psyche. It's a marvelous feat of writing. On the cusp of her sexual awakening, Evie feels drawn to danger, to doing something outrageous, to being seen by someone. And so she plots a way to meet Suzanne, an older "girl" who exudes an aura of excitement, perhaps debauchery, as she roams town in her scruffy, hippie skirts, tank tops revealing unshaven armpits, giving off a slightly musky odor.

There's talk in town of Suzanne and the other girls, her acolytes, who steal food from dumpsters in back of the grocery stores. They take it back to the ranch where they all live, work, and communally raise their kids under the watchful eye of the Charles Manson-like Russell. And here at the ranch Evie will be the next girl to fall under the spell of stronger and stronger drugs, less and less food, and the sensual bond with Suzanne that fills Evie with conflict. How far will she go to please Suzanne, the first person who sees her, who really gets her? What an aphrodisiac!

Cline told us when she spoke in Chicago at Book Expo in May that she'd always been fascinated with true crime. I, too, went through a long stage when I read so much true crime that I actually believed I was stifling my ability to trust people. For Cline, her interest stoked the literary juices that resulted in  a terrifying but exquisitely rendered portrait of evil. This book is about a horrific crime that was probably one of the most written about and analyzed in the twentieth century, yet Cline, by novelizing it, takes us right to the edge thinking, no, it won't happen that way. At the risk of sounding over the top, this is a tour de force.


Paul Woodside said...

I knew you'd love it!

Sallyb said...

OMG. I felt like I was right there. The only part I didn't care for was the chapters that took place in current times. I didn't get a feel for Evie as an adult. Cline was much better at picturing her as a child.

Chrys Fey said...

This story sounds heart-wrenching and shocking at the same time. Your review is awesome, Sally. I need to add this to my TBR list!

On another note, I've been trying to find a way to contact you with no success, so I am using your blog's comment section. Sorry about that! I read about Florida Book Page and saw your review submission guidelines. I published my first novel in print this past April. It is a romantic-suspense set partly in Florida, but the main part is in California. It also begins after a hurricane hits. (Seismic Crimes is Book 2 in the Disaster Crimes Series...Book 1 is a novella titled Hurricane Crimes, but I start the story in a way that new readers will know exactly what happened before.) Anyway, I was hoping if you could tell me if Seismic Crimes qualifies or not as your guidelines state that the books must be set in FL.

You can email me at ChrysFey(at)yahoo(dot)com. I promise that I'm a real author and not a spammer or bot. :) Thanks!