The Girls by Emma Cline

I’m going to do something a little bit different with this write up. Instead of writing something that resembles a review, I’m going to give you a bit of the paper I could write about this book that I’m not going to write because I’m not in school anymore and don’t have to. I’m going to be talking about a lot of plot points in a spoiler filled way, so skip if you want to read it uninformed. You might want to read it? I didn’t love it, but it was interesting.

rough thesis: the key behind The Girls is the weird magnetic homosocial relationships between young women, but falters because it doesn’t tackle how this grows into adulthood.

The plot of the book is playing with the idea of a Manson-like cult that a thirteen year old named Evie gets caught up in. She’s living in California, the only child of affluent divorced parents. She spends much of the summer before she leaves for high school hanging around the ranch of a charming psychopath. It isn’t the cult’s leader, Russel, who draws her in, but an older girl, Susanne.

Susanne is oddly beautiful, and absolutely magnetic. Evie wants her, or wants to be her. It’s never clear in her adolescent mind. She has crushes on boys, but these are shallow curious things, nothing like the need for approval that she feels for Susanne. Their relationship is very homoerotic. Susanne is an inspiration for Evie’s budding sexuality.

Evie’s virginity is offered up to the fake Beach Boy in the novel. Russell sends her and Susanne to the house hoping to trade sex for a record deal. Evie is aware that she’s being manipulated, and is coerced into the sex. She isn’t interested in the musician, but Susanne’s presence makes it a bearable situation. Having this man touch her is unpleasant until Susanne starts kissing her. That’s the part of the sex that she enjoys. This is a pivotal point of the book.

Russel’s offering doesn’t succeed, he doesn’t get a record deal, and the next time Susanne is back at the musician’s house it’s to commit murder under Russel’s orders. For some reason Susanne leaves Evie behind on the night of the murders. No explanation is offered, Susanne just pulls the van over on the side of the road, leaving Evie behind. She’s stuck calling her step mother for a ride home, but she gets to go to boarding school in the fall. The rest of her life is influenced by this crime in much subtler ways than if she had taken part of it.

The book is told from the point of view of Evie as an adult woman. She was shaped by the trauma she experienced with the cult, and by the secret of her involvement. She’s never reconciled what that time meant to her or how it influenced who she is now. As a middle aged woman she is still confused about what Susanne meant to her.

Despite the homoerotic elements and actual sexual connection, this female-centered eroticism is not a part of Evie’s present. She mentions past failed relationships with men, but not women. Basically, why doesn’t she grow up to be a lesbian? Was her sexuality all caught up in this one formative relationship with Susanne, and she was never able to disconnect her desire for women from the trauma of the cult?

I wanted to see this get dealt with, and it never did. The sensual aspect of Evie’s infatuation with Susanne is so important. In the sections set in the present day it neither gets handled or ignored to a satisfying degree.

tldr: it should have been about lesbians. Most books should be about lesbians, but especially this one.

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