These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around the, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile.
The Girls, Emma Cline (2016)
The Girls is Emma Cline’s debut novel about Evie, a young girl drawn into the dark world of a commune that preaches love and understanding, but hides something much more sinister. Its charismatic leader, Russell Hadrick is loosely based on Charles Manson. It’s not Russell who attracts Evie to the commune though, but the girls he holds in his sway.
Evie is spending her summer alone. Her best friend, Connie, has ditched her for someone else. Magazines, parents and the media condition teenage girls to believe the search for ‘the one’ is and all-consuming life goal and Connie compulsively strives for male attention. Evie is repulsed by her need for validation, and has a similar derision for her own mother, who fits herself into different moulds to appeal to the men she dates. But now that Connie has deserted her, the summer stretches out ahead, empty and impossibly long. Until Evie sees the girls.
The girls aren’t like anyone else. Their thrift clothes, long tousled hair and aloof allure instantly pull Evie in. She sees how people react to them and craves that influence over others as well. Suzanne is at the centre of her infatuation, raven-haired and mysterious. Desperate for the older girl’s approval, Evie allows herself to be pulled deeper into the commune’s operations, sneaking money from her mother’s purse to fund their actions. The more time she spends at the ranch, the more cracks in the harmonious façade start to show. The liberating dumpster dives and fireside parties are fringed with violence. On one occasion, Evie helps the girls to break into the house next door, but instead of stealing they move things around in the house. The focus on psychological assault rather that material gain is a deeply unsettling nod to the Manson Family’s activities.
Evie is shut out from their final bloody actions, and as a middle-aged woman, she questions whether she would have participated. The startling answer is given the chance, she might have.
The dark irony of The Girls, is that in wanting to rebel against her mother and the repeated cycle of male dominance and female submission, Evie follows a group who have sacrificed everything, and lost their selves, pursuing the admiration of one man.