Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

  • THE BOOK
    • The Girls by Emma Cline
    • Published June 14, 2016
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • A 14-year-old girl named Evie becomes intrigued by a bunch of dumpster-diving girls and gets caught up in their lifestyle in 1969 Northern California. 
    • She's especially intrigued by a 19-year-old named Suzanne who introduces her to Russell, the man who brought the group together to a ranch in the hills outside Evie's town.
    • Evie has a single friend whom she drops as soon as she sees Suzanne and her ill-clothed and ill-washed bunch. Her parents are getting divorced. They totally neglect her. Dad has moved to Palo Alto with his mistress and Mom is dating a succession of sleazy men.
    • The novel is a thinly-veiled telling of the Manson Family story in the summer of 1969.
    • There is also a portion of the novel where Evie is in her 50s and looking back on her story.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I did not like this book. If not for a couple of reasons I would have stopped reading by page 38.
      • Reason #1: It takes place in the town where I currently live, Petaluma, California.
      • Reason #2: I know the Manson Family story fairly well.
    • Apparently Ms. Cline lives in California but I don't know if it's anywhere near Petaluma. She got at least one thing wrong. 
    • She refers to Evie heading to town for the city's 110th anniversary. But there's a large sign at the entrance to town featuring the city logo, which is basically "Petaluma 1858". Let's do some math! 1969-1858=111, not 110.
      • Another possibility is the anniversary parade route which she has moving down East Washington Street. It's possible this was different in 1969 but Petaluma's annual Butter & Egg Parade has always gone down Kentucky Street, a short section of Washington Street (NOT East) and Petaluma Boulevard North (known as Main Street to natives). A small nit to pick.
        • Yes, Petaluma was once the "Egg Basket of the World" and we still have a zillion cows and chickens in our agricultural county. And almost everyone in town has been part of, or knows someone who was part of, a Butter & Egg parade. My old workplace had a float where we all dressed like chickens and danced the Chicken Dance for the entire parade. Thise were the days!
      • Another (not Petaluma-related) booboo occurs when Evie goes to the Aquarium in Monterey in 1969 even though the aquarium didn't open until the 1980s. 
    • The story is almost a direct re-telling of the Manson Family with the locations and names changed. Russell is Manson, down to the music career aspirations and the buckskin pants he wore. Suzanne is Susan Atkins. The fictional musician Russell befriends is a stand-in for Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. The group murders everyone at the musician's house (he's out of town like Polanski was when Sharon Tate died). There's a character just like Tex Watson, Manson's right-hand man. The list goes on and on.
      • My point is this: there was no true creativity involved since the author just took the story of the Family and rearranged the facts a bit.
    • Other readers seem to either love or hate this book. Some feel it's an amazing treatise on "how a young girl's life can go horribly wrong". 
      • There are still questions today about how such nice, and in several cases, well-off girls could have run away from home and joined the Manson Family. 
      • The thing is, you know from the beginning from adult Evie that her life didn't actually go terribly wrong although she always acted as if it had. She makes a point of telling us that all the books about Russell and his group never mentioned her (she was part of it for maybe a month).
    • One Amazon review comments that "it's like reading a diary written by a girl of that time". Here are some examples, which are like NOTHING I ever wrote in my diary:
      • "How she must have sat in the empty kitchen, the table smelling of the domestic rot of the sponge, and waited for me to clatter in from school, for my father to come home." Page 38
      • "Its pictures of genitally slick hams." Pg 228
      • "I could smell the memory of chewed meat." Pg261
      • "Even the pimples I'd seen on her jaw seemed obliquely beautiful, the rosy flame an inner excess made visible." Pg 112
        • Say what now? I beg to differ. Pimples are beautiful in no way, obliquely or otherwise. 
      • A 14-year-old girl would not write similes, metaphors and so on in her diary.
      • And the zillions of sentence fragments. And the use of the word "still". And the descriptions of everyone's breath, which are constant throughout the book. Still. What IS the "memory of chewed meat" exactly?! 
    • Another says "just being a girl handicapped your ability to believe [in] yourself".
      • Uh huh, but most of us don't run off to live in a filthy commune because of it. We stay home, shower regularly and write about "genitally slick hams" in our diaries. Duh.
    • Someone else commented, "The book contains explicit sexual-assault against an underage girl, and I am appalled that is included in the book."
      • Yep, Manson stand-in Russell has sex with ALL the girls ALL the time. This is part of the real Manson Family story too. Yes, the sex is explicit and yes, the sex is with an underage girl. She's not "assaulted" per se, but as a 14-year-old, it's rape whether she was willing or not. Legally a 14-year-old cannot give consent in California. 
        • Since this facet of the story happened in real life I don't think it's necessarily wrong to include it in the novel. (I realize that this is an extraordinarily laden topic but this is not the place to debate it.) Manson wasn't tried for statutory rape presumably because the murder charge was enough to imprison him. One assumes that they would have done so had the murder case ended in acquittal.
    • As you read you know murders are going to occur and you know Evie won't take part in them so there's nothing else to read this book for, unless you live in the town where it takes place, I guess.
    • Sorry Ms. Cline. I look forward to see an original work from you in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Cline grew up in Sonoma, near Petaluma, but blocked by the hills. For more fun facts, http://www.vulture.com/2014/10/faq-emma-cline-manson-family-novel.html
    Also, the first Butter & Eggs Day Parade occurred in 1982. The last old Eggs Day Parade occurred in 1926, so it is hard to know what Ms. Cline's character was watching.

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