The Girls (Cline)

The Girls
Emma Cline, 2016
Random House
356 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812998603

An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong—this stunning first novel is perfect for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s.

At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader.

Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.
Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1988-1989
Where—Sonoma, California, USA
Education—B.A. Middlebury College; M.F.A., Columbia University
Awards—Plimpton Award (Paris Review)
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York City, New York

Emma Cline is an American author, best known for The Girls, her 2016 debut novel loosely based on the Charles Manson murders of 1969. She has also written short stories for the Tin House and Paris Review.

Cline Grew up in California wine country: her father was a vintner, owner of Cline Cellers in Sonoma. Her mother came from the Jacuzzi family, inventors of the Jacuzzi whirlpool baths.

As a preteen, Cline had a brief stint as a film actress. She appeared in Flashcards, a 2003 short film, and When Billie Beat Bobby, a TV movie in which she played the young Billie Jean King.

At 13, she fell into a strange relationship with a much older man, a 54 year-old music promoter, who spotted her one day in Sonoma Plaza. They engaged in correspondence and occasional phone calls, talking about "teen stuff." It all ended when Cline got a boyfriend. Nonetheless, the episode seems an uncanny precursor to her later interest in—and sympathy for—the young women followers of Charles Manson.

Cline earned her B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont, and two years later won a scholarship to the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Several years later, she received her M.F.A from Columbia University. One of her stories submitted at Columbia, which also ran in the Paris Review (summer, 2013), contained a reference to Manson. In a second article for the Review, she wrote of her visit to the Manson Family cult site, where she felt a strong connection with the girls he'd lured away from their families.

Hired immediately after grad school as a fiction writer by The New Yorker, Cline was already at work on The Girls. Her manuscript would become a hotly sought after property, and its eventual acquisition by Random House earned her (so it is rumored) a cool $2 million. (Adapted from .)

Book Reviews
Ms. Cline also understands—at the start, at any rate—how to build layers of suspense by withholding information.... [But she] can’t come close to sustaining her novel’s early momentum.... The storytelling becomes vague and inchoate, as if you are reading a poem...about the novel you’d rather be consuming.... It’s not that Ms. Cline doesn’t possess obvious talent. She has an intuitive feel young women move through the world, except when she tells instead of shows. Then her book simply collapses.
Dwight Garner - New York Times

The Girls is a seductive and arresting coming-of-age story, told in sentences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry…a spellbinding story. Cline gorgeously maps the topography of one loneliness-ravaged adolescent heart. She gives us the fictional truth of a girl chasing danger beyond her comprehension, in a summer of Longing and Loss.
Dylan Landis - New York Times Book Review

The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror…. Debut novels like this are rare, indeed.
Washington Post

Finely intelligent, often superbly written, with flashingly brilliant sentences.At her frequent best, Cline sees the world exactly and generously. On every other page, it seems, there is something remarkable—an immaculate phrase, a boldly modifying adverb, a metaphor or simile that makes a sudden, electric connection between its poles….Much of this has to do with Cline’s ability to look again, like a painter, and see (or sense) things better than most of us do.
The New Yorker

(Starred review.) [P]rovocative, wonderfully written.... Cline is especially perceptive about... the difficult, sometimes destructive passages to adulthood.... The Girls is less about one night of violence than about the harm we can do, to ourselves and others, in our hunger for belonging and acceptance.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [I]impressive...a harrowing coming-of-age exploration of how far a young girl will go (and how much she will give up of herself) in her desperate quest to belong. Beautifully written and unforgettable. —Wilda Williams
Library Journal

Cline makes old news fresh, but [her] MFA's fondness for strenuously inventive language: ...."The words slit with scientific desire..." [is] more baffling than illuminating. And Evie's conclusion that patriarchal culture might turn any girl deadly feels...less [true] upon reflection.... Vivid and ambitious.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
A special thanks for Mary Lou Kolowitz of the Haverford Library in Havertown, PA, for these terrific questions.

1. Evie’s life is impacted by many circumstances from her childhood besides the communal group she met when she was14. Can you identify some of them based on her thoughts and actions in the book?

2. What Evie experiences after her separation from Connie is a life changing experience in itself for her. In one scene of the book, she describes drinking martinis and vomiting to try and rid herself of the loneliness she feels. Discuss any memories of adolescence you can remember and the vulnerability you may have felt.

3. Evie pities her mother. Even as a young girl, she has some understanding of the humiliation her mother endured from her father. How do you think this may have colored her perception of what love is?

4. Discuss Evie’s relationship to her father. Do you know any men who are similar in their parenting style (i.e., avoidance of parenting).

5. Why do you think Evie is so drawn to Suzanne?

6.) The book is an obvious reference to Charles Manson and his followers. Why do you think some people are attracted to a man like Russell to the point where they would do anything for him?

7. Do you think there is any hope for Evie after reading the book? How could she find happiness in her life?

8.) Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?

(Questions from Mary Lou Kolowitz, Haverford Library.)

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