The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Coming-of-age novel examines cult lifestyle

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When it’s a cold and snowy Sunday, you need a good book to read.

Despite its page count, “The Girls” by Emma Cline is the kind of novel so fast-paced and suspenseful it could be read in one, perfect snow day.

Cline’s debut novel is a fictional coming-of-age story. It is based loosely on the Charles Manson cult and murders of August 1967, according to an August 16 Guardian article.

Evie Boyd, the story’s middle-aged narrator, looks back on the “Summer of Love” and her 14-year-old self.

Evie recounts to the reader her fixation on the fictional cult leader’s reckless and eventually murderous female followers.

“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls. I noticed their hair first, long and uncombed. Then their jewelry catching the sun,” Cline wrote.

Fed up with her primly poised, divorced mother, Evie follows the girls, and an especially intriguing one named Suzanne, to their California ranch.

At the communal living space, the dresses are ratty and the air is hazy.

These scenes of wild 1960s mysticism are mixed in with flashes forward to an adult Evie asking herself if she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, would she have followed the girls and committed the crime as well.

At the time, society told many young girls that life was a waiting room until someone noticed you, Cline wrote.

For Evie, the ranch was a seductive palace of freedom and belonging, despite its violent danger.

“The Girls” is a story of adolescent loneliness fed to readers on a spoon of intricate prose. Cline’s descriptive and fragmented writing style is used to craft detailed paragraphs about the insecurity and complexity of femininity.

Evie is a hard character to like, but readers are bound to feel sympathy, and perhaps even eerie nostalgia, for her childhood gone adrift.

Cline’s acute understanding of girlhood – on the need to feel accepted, loved and understood – will undoubtedly keep you turning this novel’s pages.

 

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Coming-of-age novel examines cult lifestyle