Emma Cline’s The Girls veers from hippie-punching to anxiety about Others to the desire of bystanders to consider themselves capable (and culpable) in an interesting, quick read. Some thoughts:
- As much as hippie punching can be, I get tired of the constant need to write out anything good that happened in the sixties and focus on the evils…of course, that’s not exactly what this novel does, but it is the context that I often read rewrites of the sixties in…
- That said, Cline does several things that are particularly interesting in here…
- From a sheer craft perspective, Cline has a knack for odd verbs (or descriptors) that disrupted my attempts to read this novel in a generic fashion. Just when I would begin thinking, oh, here we go, we get the standard alienated teen hates the world but learns something in the end novel, Cline would use a verb that gave a glimpse of a whole different world lurking beyond the edge of the Helter-Skelterish approach to this Manson look-alike family.
- The perspective provided by the older woman looking back on her teenage self took an interesting twist because it comes from the bystander who is caught up in a teenage obsession with someone beside the charismatic Manson wannabe. While the narrator feels his charisma and ability to be a savior for the others on the Farm (or the Ranch?), she is in love with one of his women.
- Some of the passages that felt most effective to me were the ones in which she looks back on her younger self and realizes some of the ways in which girls are forced to define themselves through their attractiveness (and attempts to attract) boys. The Goodreads entry for the novel has a bunch of great cited passages, but this effect builds in ways that the novel reads as much as a warning to young girls as it does a look at the identity-build of Evie (and the girls on the Farm).
- The bystander approach enables Cline to do some interesting things from a narrative point of view. Rather than be clued in to how broken the object of the narrator’s affection is, we get this gradually revealed to us as the narrator (Evie) tells the story.
- I think that what I found really useful is the way that this sort of approach made me think about the process of being a reader. I kept finding myself leaving behind chunks of my assumptions as I proceeded – at first I was sort of off-put because this felt like another of the deranged lesbian genre, but I gradually saw that Evie’s obsession with Susan was just that, a teenage girl’s obsession with someone who at first looks cooler than Jesus.