Inspired by the violence and methodical brain washing of Charles Manson and his infamous Manson Family, The Girls by Emma Cline is the fictional story of how a confused young girl spirals from high school student to a malleable tool in the hands of a sociopath and the clan who follows in his wake.Evie Boyd could be a girl like any other. It’s the mid-1960s, her parents are divorced, her mother trying her hardest to find a second chance at love and her father in the thralls of a relationship with a much younger woman. Evie is frequently on her own, trying to find something that fills the void of her dysfunctional family life. The day that she sees a group a girls dancing in the park, she knows that they are different and Evie cannot help wanting what they have: absolute freedom.
Cline’s narrative is flawless, effortlessly gliding from past to present, tells Evie’s story with a prose style that is almost poetic in its description. Cline unapologetically takes us into Evie’s mind and makes us see through her eyes, and we cannot fail to see what she sees. Suzanne, a much older girl with flowing black hair, is one of the girls Evie observes dancing in the park. She feels a pull towards Suzanne, an agonizing need to be near her and in her world, an absolute desire to meet her and be her friend.
As Evie and Suzanne establish an unbalanced friendship, in which clearly Evie is much more invested in Suzanne than vice-versa, Cline introduces us to the world of the cult. Girls who are manipulated and abused by one man in the false hopes that he loves each and every one of them. Suzanne in particular is the one who shows the greatest fidelity towards Russell, the head of their ‘family’. As Russell manipulates Suzanne, Suzanne begins to manipulate Evie in what becomes a story of emotional and psychological abuse with tragic consequences.
Cline retells almost exactly the tragedy of the real-life Manson Murders, placing Evie as a spectator rather than an active participant. Through her we relive a hypnotizing version of one of the most tragic events in American history.
In The Girls, Emma Cline gives us the other version, not from the side of the victims and their families but from the side of one girl who fell into the grasp of a group that manipulated and used her until she was no longer necessary. The Girls is not a biography of the Manson family, but many details are so astonishingly similar that Cline manages to create a unique and gripping fictional story within a very real and still chilling backdrop.