Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline

I think most of us look back on the mistakes of our youth and wince with regret and embarrassment.  Evie has more to regret than most, as she was involved with a cult whose members murdered four people.  The Manson murders immediately come to mind, especially since our fictional crime takes place in the summer of 1969 in California.  Little by little we learn how Evie came to be a regular at the “ranch,” as the cult’s compound was called.  Her self-absorbed mother was neglectful, to say the least, of her fourteen-year-old daughter, who was rarely at home, but Mom hardly noticed and just assumed she was with a friend.  Evie was drawn to the ranch by the enigmatic Suzanne more so than the cult’s charismatic leader, Russell.  His ambition to become a recording artist contrasts starkly with the non-conformist lifestyle that he advocated, so that I questioned even further why his hangers-on were so enthralled.  Now that Evie is in her forties and staying at her friend Dan’s house, she is clearly not in prison.  The crux of the novel, then, is what really went down on the day of the murders.  Evie pleads innocence and a clear conscience to Dan’s son and his girlfriend, who are somewhat in awe of her past proximity to such a notoriously gruesome act.  Is Evie as free of guilt as she claims?  Or was she just not caught?  The ending does answer this question, but in many ways the ending is not as satisfying as I would have liked, in that it doesn’t elaborate on the consequences for the other cult members.  

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