Published by Random House on June 14th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
I am a lover of true crime and have reread the disturbing true crime novel Helter Skelter several times. Therefore, when The Girls by Emma Cline was released I knew I had to read it.
I will admit, that I was a bit skeptical at first as both of Cline’s parents are in the publishing industry. Her writing quickly put that thought to rest, it is eloquent, to the point and fell into the story of Evie and her time with “The Girls” and their Mansonesque family.
However, I think having read Helter Skelter hurt my reading experience. The comparisons between the murders/plots/persons involved were too great. Like the Manson Family this group lived on a spread that had once been a Hollywood set and the leader, Russell, dreams of a music contract through the acquaintance of a Dennis Wilson-like character. This does not even begin to cover the Tate-inspired murder scene. Like Sharon Tate, Linda died in her nightie, Gwen’s Abigail Folger escaped into the yard before collapsing into her inevitable demise, the victim’s hands were tied with towels and there were messages written in the victim’s blood. If this was an orginal idea I would have been spellbound but as it was I felt I would have been better off reading Vincent Bugliosi’s novel.
Evie is the Linda Kasabian of the story, she was involved but more witness than active participant, with the story being told through her eyes. The Girls in Russel’s cult were the saving grace of the story. I enjoyed delving into their psyche, no matter how fictional, as to why someone could fall pray to this brainwashed lifestyle.
Sadly, this wasn’t enough to safe the novel for me. If I was ignorant of the Tate/LaBianca murders, my final impressions would have been vastly different. Although, as it is I could not help sighing and comparing the extreme similarities of plot to the Manson family and their heinous actions. For this reason, I found The Girls to be a disappointing endeavor into historical crime.