Monday, October 17, 2016

Recently: The Girls by Emma Cline


At the surface, Emma Cline's The Girls is a book about a murder. But not a murder mystery - you know from the outset exactly who is going to commit the crime and vaguely sense who is going to be the victim. That the book centers around an ersatz Manson Family should be enough to give that away, as does the framing device, which catches up with the narrator, Evie Boyd, 40 years or so down the road in the present day, where we find what kind of person she has ultimately become - shaped by these experiences, and yes defined by them to a degree, but somehow simply the person she was always meant to be.

What's really special about the book is how it fills the moments leading up to that murder. The encounters between Evie and the future murderess Suzanne. The way she grows apart from her childhood friends and turns toward this toxic hippie commune. The way she regards her mother's failings as she settles for mediocre boyfriends and how she resists her father's new wife's attempts to bond. This is a book about the mind of a young woman as much as it is about someone who commits a crime. Moreso.

It's brilliantly written: the way it picks up on stray details and observations from its main character's world and really digs deep into their significance and her opinions on them. I can't emphasize enough how much great work is done with Evie's psyche as the narrator: how she peppers her teenage observations with adult awareness that would have come in later. How deeply and richly the read experiences the mind of this girl.

On that level, it's a timely and engaging read, for this moment when the media (well, really, the Internet) gives more and more visibility to the issues that have been faced by the interior lives of women since time immemorable. Oh did I say timely? Guess I meant timeless.

The language is absolutely gorgeous, nearly every paragraph containing some remarkable turn of phrase. Sometimes I worry, when reading overly "literate" literature, that the authors are trying too hard to be clever with flowery when they can just make their point in simple language, causing me to notice the author's hand and take me out of the world they're trying to build. Cline proves it's possible to do both simultaneously and with ease. Showoff.

It's been a while since I've encountered a book that seemed so well-suited to my tastes, but those looking for a quick thrill and a last-minute gasp should probably stay away or at least think twice, but it's a damn rewarding read.

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