Thoughts on The Girls by Emma Cline
I've waited impatiently for the chance to read this book and it did not disappoint. The story is a spin off of the Manson family from the 1960's. Since I'm not an expert on the era I don't know which details are borrowed from headlines or made up. I've always been drawn to stories about cults and their enigmatic leaders. What is the draw for otherwise intelligent people to get tricked like this and consumed? The easiest explanation seems like a frog sitting in warm water that slowly starts heating up until it's boiling. The process happens so slowly by the time you know something is wrong it's already too late.
Girls of every age, but mostly teenagers, are romanticized. They can be dangerous, ferocious and blinded by their own self righteous version of the truth. They are fervent believers in anything giving them power even if it is subtle and unnoticed by anyone else. The underlying theme of The Fever by Megan Abbott is teenage girls are dangerous and beguiling. Every decision and action feels monumental and important for such a fleeting moment in life. Small blemishes are disasters and incorrect outfits are catastrophes.
The main character Evie is trying to escape boredom among other things. She is drawn to these breezy girls who seem above the petty rules she's tried and failed to master. The rejection of everything she has known feels right. She will do anything to be closer to these girls and become one eventually. The girls are greedy for love and attention but Evie doesn't know that yet. They are starving emotionally and physically while swaying romantically in the California heat. The girls co opt a heart symbol branding their bus and the places they visit eventually leaving this as a nefarious calling card at the future scene of the crime dripping down the wall.
Suzanne, the black haired beauty, draws Evie in. Evie mimes shoplifting toilet paper for her to prove her worth. Evie's attraction is magnetic and instant. It becomes clear she will do anything for her even though they barely know each other. Who doesn't want to feel special when they are 14? To have power and autonomy? I know I would have and I can barely remember what it was like. I was insecure and susceptible to anything that would make me feel like part of a group.
Evie yearns to become an outsider. Everyone rebels in their own way. Testing the limits and boundaries. Wanting to see something new, different and exciting. Rejecting the mainstream but wanting to belong in the counter culture bubble. What do I have to do to become one of you?
Control through extortion of yourself and others is one way into the inner sanctum. Evie starts stealing money from her mom and neighbors to support the ranch. Coercion using sexual encounters with the group leader and others hand in hand with manipulation through drugs. Open your mind to new thinking is always the defacto excuse.
I appreciate the description of the compound portrayed as not nice, tidy or clean. It's dilapidated, rotting and no one cares or tries to fix it. It's soon abandoned and left to collapse on its own. This place isn't pretty or dreamy but exists to break the rules. No order only chaos.
Evie doesn't participate in the murders because she was kicked out of the soon to be getaway car. She senses how easy it would have been to go along with it like everything else that happens at the ranch. Like a powerful tide pulling you out to sea. In the end her idol betrays her. This may be the most redeeming action Suzanne could do. The reality that our idols facade will crumble as they err and become human again blindsides her. Whether it's humbling or depressing we are all just people.
I like the ending because it isn't happy and doesn't tie everything together. It's just like the ranch. Messy and leaving more questions than answers. No one gets out unscathed. If you are fascinated by cults you will enjoy this read.