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The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls (2016)

by Emma Cline

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1,0861137,665 (3.61)41

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A story of girls living in northern California in the 1960s and the women they become from the experience. ( )
  lar0que | May 14, 2017 |
Meh. Plodding and overworked. ( )
  redsnapdragons | May 1, 2017 |
Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House and Emma Cline for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This book started off okay, but I felt like I was drowning in too much unneeded detail. The book is about a young girl who comes from a broken family through divorce. Evie is a loner who becomes a member of this cult-like group. She later becomes obsessed with one particular member of the group. The story is told from young Evie’s and present day Evie’s point of view. But, it doesn’t draw you in. It stops short at showing you exactly why Evie was drawn to and participated in the cult and not a group of mall hanging teenagers.
( )
  CorTim2 | Apr 4, 2017 |
Middle-aged Evie Boyd looks back to the summer of 1969 when as a 14-year-old teenager she became involved in a Manson-like cult. Drawn to a free-spirited rebellious woman named Suzanne, Evie is introduced to the commune of which Suzanne is a member. Evie gradually becomes involved in the cult’s lifestyle of free love, drugs, and crime.

The characterization of the teenaged Evie is a strong element in the book. Evie’s parents are virtually absent from her life; nothing seems to be happening in her life; she feels alienated from her peers; and her crushes on boys are unreciprocated. As a result, she is bored and drifting through life and is desperate for attention and love. The older Suzanne sees her neediness and gives her the attention she desires. Evie thrives on being noticed and focuses on trying to please Suzanne and the cult leader, Russell Hadrick, so their love and attention will not be withdrawn. Of course, Evie is being manipulated: she is forced into sexual service and encouraged to steal to supply food and money for the group.

It becomes clear how certain people can be drawn into belonging to a cult. Both Russell and Suzanne are adept at recognizing young women who lack confidence and self-esteem. These insecure, lonely women are easily malleable. Some attention makes them feel, like Evie, that they are “the center of a singular drama.” As an adult, Evie can recognize the tactics Russell used on her during her first evening at the commune: “Russell had put me through a series of ritual tests. . . . Attracting the thin, harried girls with partial college degrees and neglectful parents, girls with hellish bosses and dreams of nose jobs. His bread and butter. . . . Already he’d become an expert in female sadness – a particular slump in the shoulders, a nervous rash. A subservient lilt at the end of sentences, eyelashes gone soggy from crying. Russell did the same thing to me that he did to those girls. Little tests, first. A touch on my back, a pulse of my hand. Little ways of breaking down boundaries” (125).

The novel examines the world of young women and does not present a pleasant picture. Young girls are objectified and their self-esteem is directly connected to how they meet society’s ideals of feminine beauty and deportment. Young girls are often targets of sexual exploitation; Evie lists several instances of how men saw her need and used it against her: “a stranger at a fair who palmed my crotch through my shorts. A man on the sidewalk who lunged at me, then laughed when I flinched. The night an older man took me to a fancy restaurant . . . [and] later placed my hand on his dick while he drove me home. None of this was rare. Things like this happened hundreds of times. Maybe more” (349 – 350). I’d bet there are few women who can’t list such encounters from their personal experience.

The message is that times have changed but what is expected of women has not. Women are expected to accept the dehumanizing demands of men. Evie sees her behaviour paralleled in the behaviour of a young woman named Sasha whose boyfriend Julian coerces her into exposing her breasts to a friend of his. Then Sasha “barely said goodbye. Burrowing into Julian’s side, her face set like a preventative against my pity. She had already absented herself, I knew, gone to that other place in her mind where Julian was sweet and kind and life was fun, or if it wasn’t fun, it was interesting, and wasn’t that valuable, didn’t that mean something” (338)? This is so similar to Evie’s 14-year-old self “trying so hard to slur the rough, disappointing edges of boys into the shape of someone we could love” (47).

If you’ve ever wondered how women could have been attracted to Charles Manson and why they would have killed for him, you might want to read this book. You may find yourself wanting to shake Evie out of her naivety but you may also come to an understanding of the appeal of cults for certain people whose vulnerability makes them targets for the unscrupulous.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Mar 24, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
The Girls works a well-tapped vein in literary fiction: the queasy exploration of how young women with crippled egos can become accessories to their own degradation. Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Gaitskill are masters of this theme. Cline’s contribution is a heady evocation of the boredom and isolation of adolescence in pre-internet suburbia, in houses deserted by their restless, doubt-stricken adult proprietors where “the air was candied with silence.” The novel is heavy with figurative language; Cline has a telling fondness for the word “humid.” Not all of this comes off effectively (Evie’s mom makes Chinese ribs that “had a glandular sheen, like a lacquer”), but most of it does (Evie, dazzled by her father’s girlfriend, thinks she has a life “like a TV show about summer.”)
added by Nickelini | editSlate, Laura Miller (Jun 7, 2016)
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I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.
The sun spiked through the trees, like always—the drowsy willows, the hot wind gusting over the picnic blankets—but the familiarity of the day was disturbed by the path the girls cut across the regular world. Sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water.
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