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The Girls: A Novel Paperback – May 9, 2017
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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But then it became exhausting. Because while Cline is an incredibly gifted writer, she's not a great storyteller, and it got really tiring reading paragraph after paragraph of beautiful prose that essentially says nothing. The pacing was soooooo sloooooow. It took pages to describe the smallest details. The story, in a nutshell, is about a girl who becomes part of a cult, and the cult commits heinous murders. The premise is fantastic. But in my opinion, it was told from the wrong point of view. What should have been a fabulous imaginative retelling of Manson fell flat, because the protagonist is only a bystander, and a part-time one at that. She doesn't live with the cult - she goes home most nights. She has no memorable relationships with anyone else in the group, other than the one girl she's infatuated with. But because her attraction is one-sided, the relationship never develops. And other than this one girl, the other characters are barely sketched out. They only exist in her peripheral vision, hazy snapshots at best, and this includes the Manson-like character himself. The victims, we don't really know at all, so it's difficult to be horrified about what happens to them. Speaking of which, she's not involved at all in the planning of the murders, and she's even not there when the murders happen. All that build-up, and we don't even see the terrible thing that's the climax of the story.
The book is essentially one giant flashback, with a handful of present-day scenes telling us very little about the protagonist's life now (but I get why Cline choose to do it this way - if the story is told in flashback, she can tell it with added insight and hindsight, using lots of "little did she know's" to hint at what's to come - a cheap way to create tension, but I suppose it's better than no tension at all). In the end, though, it's so completely dissatisfying because we don't know what she's learned, or how she's grown. She hints at trying to help a young girl in the present-day, someone who reminds her of herself, but again, it never develops into anything.
This is a story that gets lost in its own words. I'm so disappointed. Great premise, great writing, weak story.
I am just saying, that's how the book reads. Blah!
Based on several reviews, I was anticipating a dark read full of teenage angst that played on a graphic core in order to up the “wow” factor. I could not have been more wrong. Nor have I ever been happier to be so wrong. The Girls is a shining example of how to utilize first person narration in the most successful ways.
It is the end of the 60’s in Northern California. It is summer, and Evie Boyd feels isolated and out-of-place. Like many teenage girls she just wants to belong. Enter Suzanne. She is care-free and captivating. Immediately drawn to this young stranger, she slowly begins distancing herself from her family and only real friend to spend more time with Suzanne and her friends on the ranch led by the amorous Russell. Evie feels like she has finally found her place in life. But once the initial luster wears off, she realizes she may be involved in something sinister and dangerous.
“My eyes were already habituated to the texture of decay, so I thought that I had passed back into the circle of light.”
Evie Boyd is so bitterly realistic and raw as a protagonist that there is a part of her I found uncomfortably familiar. As a young impressionable girl desperately seeking an acceptance that most of us can remember feeling was out of reach during some point in our young lives, she is undeniably relatable to at least a small degree. It is this painfully honest approach to her character that gives her and The Girls true life and credibility. The part of me that would normally question her frighteningly bad decisions and actions was easily replaced with an equal amount of sadness and understanding. I didn’t like that I was juggling this new-found sympathy for a character who was making harrowing choices, but I couldn’t help but admire the author’s ability to solicit this from me. Full immersion into Evie’s life had occurred.
“You wanted things and you couldn’t help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?”
Cline spares zero expense or feelings in effort to establish this dark world that is a cult. She brazenly exposes the reader to the loss of Evie’s innocence, gross sexual encounters and the repetitive drug use that fuels this disturbing journey into one young girl’s psych and time on the ranch. The very facets that make The Girls so disturbing also make it so triumphant. This no holds barred approach succeeds in setting the stage and making the unfathomable feel horribly possible. It is through this bold technique that the reader can begin to process how our young protagonist has come to find herself on the ranch. This is a terrifyingly sincere representation of cult life and culture. It is not meant to be pleasant or easy.
Cline’s writing is almost poetic yet pragmatic. She effortlessly supplies a fluid narration that leaps from Evie’s past to present. I have noted some reader’s struggled with the change in tone at times, but I personally found this to play perfectly into her transitions, conveying our narrator’s current state of mind more effectively. The ending did not offer an overly satisfying conclusion, but I couldn’t really ask that from The Girls.
So here is the hard part, I loved this novel. But I am hesitant to recommend it. This will be too much for many and rightfully so. This is a brutal coming of age story during a very dark time. It has burrowed deep into the core of my mind and is sure to remain for some time. If you find yourself truly fascinated with cult culture and the human psych and can stomach the harsh reality of what it entails, then consider adding this to your list.