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by Emma Cline
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go ...
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The Girls, Emma Cline, author, read by Cady McClain
The narrator, McClain, interpreted the characters very well, using tone and emphasis that was particular to each, making them easily recognizable. It was almost possible to see them in my mind’s eye and to feel the evil that came off some of them. I wondered how anyone could be so naïve that he/she would simply follow someone blindly, as Evie and the other followers of Russell tended to do. I wondered, what is the appeal of these brutally violent books on our population? I believe that these types of books, violent movies and television shows, coupled with the violent rhetoric from the talking heads on TV and current politicians actually is encouraging bad behavior by extolling it.
The book will hearken back to the memory of the horrific real life Charles Manson murders, but this book is about Russell, a frustrated musician, and Suzanne one of his acolytes, and their followers. They are all basically misfits, dysfunctional young adults who can’t seem to find a place for themselves in society. They drop out and follow manipulative, disturbed leaders because those leaders make them feel wanted, make them feel they belong someplace by providing them with meager shelter, clothing and food, but most importantly with the ingredient we call love, an emotion and a feeling that is generally absent in their homes or in their own heads. Some simply feel guilty for what they have when they see that others have far less. Some simply do not know how to fit in to society. Some have been bullied or ridiculed. They are different; the young are often cruel to those that don’t fit into their idea of normal. It would seem that those who are not resilient enough to withstand the pressures of life, who have no support system, who may be emotionally disturbed to begin with, flounder and search for acceptance in any place they can find it.
When the story begins, Evie Boyd is middle-aged. She is “house-sitting” when she is awakened by an unexpected noise and a rising fear of impending danger. Her thoughts reveal her past, taking the reader back to 1969 when she is only 14 years old. We learn that she was a very unhappy, unsophisticated and unconfident teenager, living with her self-absorbed mother, a woman who felt sorry for herself and put her needs before her child’s. Her father had left her mom for another woman who flirted flagrantly in their own home with him. He, however, had a reputation as a philanderer. Evie resented her mother. All she seemed to really want was to be appreciated, to feel the warmth of family life, to be loved, but that atmosphere was absent in her home.
Both mother and daughter were lonely, but instead of finding comfort in each other, they antagonized each other and went elsewhere for the emotional satisfaction they required. Evie’s mom found a married man, and Evie found something very similar to a cult. Evie was going through the throes of puberty and her mother was going through the throes of her separation and divorce. Added to Evie’s feelings of abandonment at home and at school, was the loss of her best and perhaps only friend, Connie, after a falling out. All of the ingredients were in place to make a very dysfunctional teenager seek a place to belong, a place to feel comfortable. Evie was primed to fall in with a terribly disturbed group of people who lived in very non-traditional ways.
Russell’s group preyed on the weak and the unhappy, the misfits of the world who were searching for acceptance and love, searching for a place to feel less lonely, to feel more appreciated and to be any place they could find the sense of community they desired. They were not forced to remain, but often the interactions between the members of the group were designed to lure them into the group, to use them for what they could offer. The behavior was dreamlike, often in drug induced states of airiness; the remarks were subtly influential, like “don’t you want me to be happy?” when their wishes were not fulfilled. The remarks were designed to make Evie and others feel guilty and indebted to them for whatever little kindness or affection they offered them in exchange for their loyalty. They lived off the kindness of others who were indebted to them for one reason or another, or they stole what they needed from other sources. They generally remained high on drugs that were provided, and were often really unaware of their own behavior and its consequences. They used platitudes to convince each other that what they were doing was harmless. They encouraged bad behavior that often seemed very exciting, behavior they excused as not really hurting anyone, until, that is, it did. However, well grounded people would not be lured into their world and would see through the manipulation that was constantly being used.
There was a loose hierarchy, but Russell was the hypnotic leader they all worshiped, especially the “girls” who went to him willingly and eagerly when summoned, feeling the pride of being chosen and included in his community. They never saw the danger in their lifestyle. What they saw was a way to strike back at a world that displeased them, a world in which some were able to achieve what they wanted for themselves but could never achieve, a world they did not know how to enter and therefore, by its very nature, a world that rejected them. Yet all they really wanted was to be accepted and to be a part of it. They were angry, filled with resentment, frustration and an inability to deal with life, and so they rebelled in the most appalling ways. When that failed to satisfy their needs, they sought even more horrifying ways to take revenge on the innocent around them. Their acts were often random, but they were unspeakable acts, nevertheless. They were designed to make them feel powerful and to make those they resented feel powerless and frightened. They enjoyed that sense of control and authority. Was it a genetic flaw in their personalities, was it the environment in which they were raised, or was it a combination of circumstances that had to be present in order to turn someone into that kind of a monster?
I found the novel very disturbing because of its content. I realize that the publishing industry, like all businesses, are all about their bottom line, but I am disappointed in a publishing industry that seems intent on featuring and pushing books with disturbing subject matter and images, glorifying negative behavior over positive and discontent over contentment, failure over success. I am tired of books like this, to be honest. I would like to see the industry encourage books of a more positive content so that readers will emulate those instead of the sick, depressed, sex obsessed crew that seem to appear in most of the books today. It would be nice if some offered learning experiences that would improve their lives, rather than ideas designed to induce pain in others.
I have a friend who was once hit by so much adversity, we all wondered how she managed to get up each day and smile. When asked how she coped, she replied that she had a choice to be happy or sad, and she chose to be happy. It is too bad that more books don’t promote that kind of attitude instead of the debilitating behavior so often featured in best sellers which only serve to play into and encourage the weakness of unhappy people by finding ways to justify their unhappiness, rather than offering ways to build them up, ways to survive that are optimistic and conducive to success. Is it any wonder society is so sick? We are being force-fed the germs of discontent by all with a bully pulpit!
Many of our group found the writing too flowery for their taste and there was general consensus that the writing style was not popular.
As we were all aware of the Manson story, we found ourselves waiting for something in a similar vein to happen and after waiting until almost the end of the book we found the events to be rather anti-climactic
This book focussed more on the personalities involved. Evie was not happy with her life, her best friend Connie had a new best friend and she felt excluded Evie wanted to be the centre of attention and did most things for the effect that they would have on others so it was not suprising that as a 14 year old she was flattered by the attention given to her by the older girls. This was to have a profound and mostly negative impact on her life.
We felt that the mother was odd as she was not in the least concerned about the whereabouts of her daughter and did not check on her. Evie’s father was too involved with his new life to be much help, he was more concerned with his new young wife.
Russell, who seemed to be the centre of the cult that Evie was introduced into, had the girls running around after him, but did not seem concerned with them as individuals.
When the events at the end of the book finally happened we were unsure of Suzanne’s motives in excluding Evie at the last moment. We could not make up our minds whether she was helping Evie by not allowing her to be there, or perhaps she was fed up with the younger girl and just wanted rid of her. Whatever the reason, as it turned out Evie was lucky not to be involved.
Altogether most of us found it an unsatisfactory book on many levels and most of our book club members would not want to read another book by this author. This was very disappointing as it was hyped up to quite a degree so expectations were high.
Out of 10 we gave the book a score of 4.5.
What I found most gripping about the book was Evie's contemplation of her pent up hate as compared to the hate acted out by Suzanne. Evie was in thrall to Suzanne just as Suzanne was in thrall to Russell. At the end of the book Evie comes to realize that she probably would of done anything Suzanne told her to do, even cold blooded murder.
Not what I expected. Based on the Manson Murders, this throwback in time depicted an era of nostalgia mixed with fear that kept me wanting to keep reading despite the graphic nature of the story. You'll either love it or hate it!
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