You know when a book is surrounded by so much hype that you’re almost nervous to read it? That’s how we felt about The Girls, the buzzy new novel that loosely reinterprets the early days of Charles Manson’s infamous cult.
We’re thrilled to report that we were not disappointed.
Set in Northern California, the book opens on Evie Boyd looking back on her teenage years. In the late ’60s, Evie is a malleable and lonely 14-year-old whose parents are recently divorced and who is searching for meaning and structure.
That’s when she notices a slightly feral and seductively dangerous-looking group of older girls in a park. She finds out that they live on a rundown commune and are devoted to a grungy older man named Russell. Then she becomes one of them.
Ringing any bells? Probably, since the book pretty closely parallels the exploits of the real Manson cult, right down to Russell’s uncanny ability to sweet-talk, creepy tests of devotion and, yes, penchant for murder.
Even though we know how Evie’s time with Russell’s group ends (hint: pretty similar to the Manson thing), that doesn’t make the story any less enthralling. What’s really fascinating is the manic relationship between Evie and one particular “girl,” Suzanne, and the psychology behind how easily a not-extraordinary man can manipulate vulnerable women into doing horrible things.
Debut novelist Cline has an ear for language and a way of making the creepy-hippie life on the commune seem both appealing and appalling. You’ll read on in horror, but also, quite possibly, with the nagging sense that this could have been you.