This is one of those books that comes out of the blue and sucker punches you in the gut. Cline writes bravely, about things that are more often than not left out of ‘coming of age’ novels. Not that this is a book about coming of age. It’s so much more than that.
Evie Boyd is a bored, wiser than her years teen at the close of the 1960s, living with her newly divorced (and very lost) mother in a house built and paid for by her famous grandmother. She’s expected to do what every other girl does that summer – smoke cigarettes, talk about boys, swim with her girlfriends and be generally aimless. Instead, a chance encounter with an enigmatic older girl makes Evie question her place in the world. Drawn into a cult based on the Manson Family, Evie tries to build her loyalties in a world that simultaneously draws her in and rejects her.
Years later, Evie is single, house-sitting a friend’s house when she is unexpectedly joined by the friend’s son and his girlfriend, a young girl Evie sees simultaneously as a past version of herself and someone that past version would have loved. The story is told in flashbacks by middle-aged Evie and the presence of the young girl really adds to the menace of the story.
And it’s very menacing. You know from the outset that this is not a nice story. It’s bleak in places, and confronting, and ugly and boring and totally, totally engrossing – I could not put it down. The relationship – part worship, part covetousness – between Evie and Suzanne is beautifully rendered and leaves you wanting concrete answers. None are forthcoming and as someone who spent that period of my life constantly negotiating the boundaries between close friendships between women and sexual relationships, the lack of a definitive ‘are they are aren’t they’ add loads to the novel.
And it doesn’t even need it. The prose is lovely, the scenes place you smack bang in the middle, then jolt you straight out to somewhere else. Cline has a method of entrapping you in a story that is deserved of a much more experienced writer – I can’t wait to read more of her work and watch her style develop to the same level as her writing skill.
This book will make you uncomfortable. It will finish too soon and without answers. It will make you google the Manson Family Murders and cringe at the horror that is human nature. It will make Emma Cline a LOT of money. It will make you hope she writes quickly and prolifically.