The most remarkable quality of this novel is Cline’s ability to articulate the anxieties of adolescence in language that’s gorgeously poetic without mangling the authenticity of a teenager’s consciousness. The adult’s melancholy reflection and the girl’s swelling impetuousness are flawlessly braided together...[F]or a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, 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.
Finely intelligent, often superbly written, with flashingly brilliant sentences, The Girls is also a symptomatic product not of the sixties but of our own age: a nicely paced literary-commercial début whose brilliant style, in the end, seems to restrict its reach and depth...The form of a novel is the accumulation of its sentences; in this case, the tempo of the sentence becomes the stammering tempo of the form. The Girls draws much power from this style, aided by the immediacy of its first-person narration; but development and argument tend to leak away. It is a style supremely adept at plunging us into the helter-skelter world of 1969, but less so at justifying our belated presence, as contemporary readers, in that world.
The Girls is gorgeous, disquieting, and really, really good ... [Cline's] prose conveys a kind of atmospheric dread, punctuated by slyly distilled observation, not unlike the early cinematic style of Roman Polanski, whose wife, actress Sharon Tate, was killed by the Manson family. That deliberate tone remains throughout, though it’s somewhat less successful in the sections set in the present ... By far the strongest writing comes when Cline limns the nearly exquisite boredom and anticipation of early adolescence ... brings a fresh and discerning eye to both the specific, horrific crime at her book’s center, one firmly located in a time and place, and the timeless, slow-motion tragedy of a typical American girlhood.
The strength of The Girls lies in Cline’s ability to evoke both the textures and atmosphere of those painful in-between times; the desperate rush to fill an emotional vacuum ... The Girls is far from a perfect novel: its mirroring of the trajectory of the Family’s activities is somewhat constricting, and unnecessary; a secondary line, in which we meet Evie in middle age, is affecting, but not quite substantial enough. But she is a powerful interpreter of ambiguous emotional vectors, and the catastrophic directions in which they can lead.
Cline’s novel is an astonishing work of imagination — remarkably atmospheric, preternaturally intelligent, and brutally feminist ... As skillfully as Gerhard Richter, Cline painstakingly destroys the separation between art and faithful representation to create something new, wonderful, and disorienting ... Rather than rely on desiccated, lazy signifiers of spooky, nefarious hippiedom, Cline turns instead to her titular girls ... The Girls which follows one Evie Boyd of Petaluma, Calif., dares to give the Manson girls agency as well as a context more meaningful than yet another Doors organ solo bleating over a plume of patchouli smoke.
...[a]thoroughly seductive debut ... we are captured by Cline's haunting creation as surely as the real Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Susan Atkins fell under a madman's spell ... Though the long-withheld climax chilled me, the less physically violent sections of the novel disturbed me much more. The Girls promises to be the novel of the summer, with good reason. Readers will down Cline's spooky, twisted narrative in a gulp, and then they'll go off to bed with the lights on.
The surprise of this novel is its almost studious avoidance of shock and sensationalism. There’s nothing here to do with 'Helter Skelter' or Manson’s ravings about an apocalyptic race war. The murders, when they come, are motivated by banal reasons of revenge. Even drugs and sex have relatively minor roles. What Ms. Cline delivers instead is an atmosphere of eerie desolation and balked desire thanks to her sensuous turns of phrase ... Of course heightened lyricism deployed in prodigal amounts will fall flat. And I suspect some readers will resent the bait and switch of turning one of the last century’s most lurid crimes into yet another low-simmering excavation of longing and anomie. Yet The Girls is a hypnotic, persuasively melancholy performance.
Cline has a lovely gift for the apt simile, and the book teems with startling description—one sometimes has a sense that some stern editor probably made her rein in her headlong gift for figures of speech, but the abundance that’s left is often wonderful ... A less accomplished writer might have chosen to portray Evie’s parents as neglectful monsters, but they are strangely sympathetic, or at least typical of their generation and milieu ... The most interesting thing about this well-written, sometimes overwritten, gripping novel is its sympathetic examination of the whole situation of an adolescent girl.
Emma Cline’s first novel, The Girls, is a seductive and arresting coming-of-age story hinged on Charles Manson, told in sentences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry...What results is a historical novel that goes halfway down the rabbit hole and exquisitely reports back. Then it pulls out, eschewing the terrifying, fascinating human murk. Still, it’s a spellbinding story...
Emma Cline’s fierce, gripping debut is much less interested in the stock answers to what motivates a man like Russell or Charles Manson (ego, insanity) than the deeper impulses that tug an ordinary girl like Evie toward that kind of madness—and how she can come so close to breaching it that she still wonders, decades later, at the thinness of the line that held her back, how arbitrary it might be that her hands are clean.
A 27-year-old graduate of the Columbia MFA program, whose fiction has appeared in the Paris Review and Tin House, she’s shrewdly reasoned that we’ve heard enough about Charlie. In the cult dynamic, she’s seen something universal — emotions, appetites, and regular human needs warped way out of proportion — and in her novel she’s converted a quintessentially ’60s story into something timeless...The Girls isn’t a Wikipedia novel, it’s not one of those historical novels that congratulates the present on its improvements over the past, and it doesn’t impose today’s ideas on the old days. As the smartphone-era frame around Evie’s story implies, Cline is interested in the Manson chapter for the way it amplifies the novel’s traditional concerns. Pastoral, marriage plot, crime story — the novel of the cult has it all. You wonder why more people don’t write them.
Ms. Cline can’t come close to sustaining her novel’s early momentum. After 30 or 40 pages, my enthusiasm for The Girls began to wane. After 60 pages, I was scanning for the exit signs. The storytelling becomes vague and inchoate, as if you are reading a poem — a windy poem of the Jorie Graham variety — about the novel you’d rather be consuming. This humorless book whispers when you wish it would scream. Its sentences go soft, like noodles in a pot ... It’s not that Ms. Cline doesn’t possess obvious talent. She has an intuitive feel for the interiors of a 14-year-old’s mind, especially the way that Evie, with her fragile sense of self, becomes party to her own abasement at the hands of Russell, the charismatic cult leader ... Everything in The Girls is pre-elegized. Thesis statements jam this novel’s circuitry, as well. Ms. Cline has a good deal to say about how young women move through the world, except when she tells instead of shows. Then her book simply collapses.
The Girls works a well-tapped vein in literary fiction: the queasy exploration of how young women with crippled egos can become accessories to their own degradation. Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Gaitskill are masters of this theme. Cline’s contribution is a heady evocation of the boredom and isolation of adolescence in pre-internet suburbia, in houses deserted by their restless, doubt-stricken adult proprietors where 'the air was candied with silence.' The novel is heavy with figurative language; Cline has a telling fondness for the word 'humid.' Not all of this comes off effectively (Evie’s mom makes Chinese ribs that 'had a glandular sheen, like a lacquer'), but most of it does (Evie, dazzled by her father’s girlfriend, thinks she has a life 'like a TV show about summer.') And in this case, the languorous effects of the prose match its subject: that state of feeling as if you’re stuck in life’s antechamber, scrutinizing the static world around you for clues on how to get out, hoping to be rescued by someone more real than yourself, someone who deems you worthy.
Evie’s experience with Russell and Suzanne is so rare that the novel can’t stand as an exemplary examination of female adolescence. Cline is writing more about the lingering effects of trauma than the sexual chaos of the counterculture movement. Although this makes the novel’s historical details and fixation on the Manson cult feel more artificial than inspired—like cheap props in a play—it does create room for something new...Cline has an ear for the barbed and baiting way girls speak to each other. Her dialogue is casual but convincing. Elsewhere, though, Cline’s metaphors land heavily, and don’t help to show the world the way Evie might actually see it.
...[a] hypnotizing debut ... In a way, the power of The Girls isn’t the idea that any one of us could be murdered in our presumably safe spaces by a band of marauding lunatics at any given moment, though that’s certainly a compelling thought. Rather, it’s that an awkward and vulnerable 14-year-old girl on the prowl for some fun could so easily be recruited by a group of older, seemingly wiser cool kids with the capacity to commit real damage ... So does The Girls live up to its hype? For the most part, yes — with one major caveat. Cline’s writing style shows her age and still needs some finessing. Though she has a knack for evocative, often flirtatious turns of phrase, her near-constant reliance on overstuffed, sometimes nonsensical similes and metaphors to deliver a point removes some of the magic from the text ... Her eagle-eyed take on the churnings and pitfalls of adolescence — longing to be wanted, feeling seen, getting discarded — rarely misses its mark.
Cline has a knack for dissecting sexual politics, both within the cult and in the normal, suburban world of Petaluma. In the book’s goriest passages, she spares no detail, though you wish she would. She lingers in the explicit, exhibiting an aptitude for conjuring our basest human instincts, like Suzanne’s frenzied brutality and mercilessness as she kills a small boy. An unfortunate rock left unturned is the ideology of the cult, other than vague anti-establishment sentiments that trickle down into the girls’ scorn for the comfortable classes... Cline’s dreamy and meditative writing style is what makes the trip to the portentous ’60s underground so alluring — her voice is one that will undoubtedly garner a following of its own.
As full as the book is of clearly articulated notions, paragraph-long observations on the paradox of feminine power and girlish powerlessness, it’s not a creed; Cline carefully treads along a well-paced plot, drawing characters with heart along the way. She manages to reflect on the tension between the selves we perform and the selves we feel we are — 'affected' is a favorite alternative to 'said' — without getting mired in commentary. The result is a book as fast-moving as a van on the run, as dark and atmospheric as the smog it cuts through. A complex story about girlhood, violence, and the psychology of cults, carried by the author’s buoyant sentences and easy insights into the paradoxes of femininity.
A compelling novel ... a nuanced and deeply drawn character study of teenage ennui ... In luminous prose, the novel maps Evie’s obsessive psyche, demonstrating her hunger to be accepted by the other girls, especially the family’s ringleader, Suzanne. With its beguiling tale of adolescent angst, played out against a retelling of one of the most infamous murders in American history, The Girls is a compelling and startling new work of fiction. Ms Cline brilliantly shows how far adolescent loneliness can push a girl in her desire to be loved.
The buzz about Emma Cline’s debut novel has been building for months, and deservedly so. The Girls is the summer book that checks off all requirements for the discerning reader: a compelling plot, intriguing characters and spot-on dialogue that evokes the disquiet of one’s teenage years...
Cline perfectly captures the excitement of teen rebellion and burgeoning sexuality with the fear of pushing past emotional and socially defined boundaries, and how those transgressions travel into adulthood with us.
...longing and desire are the twin forces ricocheting in Cline’s beast of a debut. Only clumsily might it be categorized as 'Manson fiction,' though; more centrally, it is one of the darkest and most alluring coming-of-age novels to drop in a good while ... So yes, there is a lot that makes one want to secretly see Cline fail—her age, her subject, her hype, her advance. Unfortunately for comment sections everywhere, The Girls will not give those seeking to eviscerate it much ammunition. ... The Girls revels in how deliriously intoxicating—and dangerous—it is to find oneself desired, and Cline is an enviable talent right out of the starting gate.
This novel will be familiar: it’s definitely a coming-of-age story, and also a story set in a well-mined period of the recent American past. But it transcends both, not just because Cline’s writing lets us linger on every detail, but because she reorients the narrative toward a person we haven’t heard all that much from yet, and gives readers access to the comprehensible subjectivity of a person whose equivalents have seemed incidental until now. How many Evies were there at the real Spahn Ranch, drawn in by the thrill of belonging but made into accessories in every sense of the word? The story told in The Girls may take place around the periphery of a crazy crime, but it doesn’t linger on the narcissistic maniac who perpetrates it, because, it turns out, not everyone is interested in orbiting him.
The early sections of the book nail down precisely the ennui and competitiveness of teenagers, the fragility of those half-formed egos ... The Girls is compulsively readable, particularly when Evie discovers 'the ranch,' a commune on the outskirts of town where a gaggle of hippyish girls gather around the charismatic Russell Hadrick ... While the subject matter is familiar, it’s the prose that makes The Girls such a strikingly accomplished debut. Evie’s voice shimmers with vivid metaphorical language ... While some of the prose’s rhythm feels a little creative-writing-class, with lots of jagged, five-word sentences, there are some truly breathtaking passages — lush and lapidary and full of startling imagery.
While the cult’s nefarious acts keep pages flipping, Cline’s attention is trained on the women who are conditioned to want nothing but to please men. It’s a perceptive societal critique, but one Cline makes rather unsubtly. Instead of showing how Evie accedes to magazines that instruct on the perfect makeup application needed to catch a man and radio ballads that turn women into objects of lust, Cline uses Evie to simply state her thesis...It’s a reductive gender dynamic. But it’s easy to forgive the first-time novelist who otherwise does a compelling job of tapping into the psyche of women pushed to the edge.
The Girls avoids the pitfalls of most period pieces, sidestepping the obvious totems of its era for smaller and more revealing details. That Cline, all of 27, so convincingly captures a time that occurred more than 20 years before she was even born is remarkable ... The idea of men judging women—especially men judging girls—runs throughout the book with piercing insight. This is what gives the book its tragic heft. The little steps the girls take off the path lead them to carnage, and they took the steps for reasons they didn’t understand.
The Girls finds a fresh spin on a familiar story, one some of us have been reliving for nearly 50 years. And yet in the end, it’s an exercise that feels empty. The Girls stayed with me — it has its haunting moments, despite some overly writerly indulgences — but left me as troubled and perplexed as ever by an unimaginable crime. Sometimes the imagination simply fails.
If the subject matter is delightfully sleazy, the treatment is high M.F.A., written in dreamy, lyrical flashbacks from the point of view of an older, wiser Evie remembering the summer of 1969 ... The passages from Evie's pre-Suzanne life are particularly satisfying; relieved of the burden of sensationalism, the prose dances through ordinary beats of adolescence with an awkward grace, letting certain details jar the reader in just the right way, like stubbed toes ... Maybe the trouble is that the real-world Manson family was just too interesting, the many biographies and memoirs of ex-members too detailed and gripping. By contrast, the 'girls' of the title remain disappointingly vague, their relationships incoherent ... Despite this type of descriptive lassitude, the pages do turn. The Girls is a reliable poolside read, appropriate for lightly sun-dazed attention, and Cline will have plenty of chances to perfect her blend of tawdriness and sincerity in future books.
Some things in life are actually worth the hype. Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls is definitely in that category ... To say The Girls is mainly about cult indoctrination would be a disservice. It’s more a crash course in how girls and women are used, and how they are reared to want male attention, offered up to men and moved around like chess pieces. It’s also about how women use one another ... As far as the writing itself, the prose is near perfect. Each line is decadent and sensuous, though at times the writing is so dripping with metaphor, it weighs the story down. Minding that, The Girls is beautifully rendered and sickeningly insightful.
Cline, avoiding the snares of nostalgia or titillation, conjures up a time and place that shimmers newly before us, dreamlike yet immediate...We have been here before in fiction. T. C. Boyle’s 2003 novel Drop City, for instance, brilliantly depicted the foulness and chicanery infecting the California sixties scene. And Cline does the same, but with compressed intensity rather than operatic flair.
Cline thrives in these small moments, the messy flotsam of lives, the poetic, understated details in a story that could easily be marketed as a blockbuster thriller: 'fog dripping audibly from the eucalyptus leaves'; 'ghosts of grease' left on a wineglass; Russell’s interest in Evie described as 'a quick tightening of ribbon.' The Girls’ most radical and rewarding formal innovation may be its efforts to slow down, hang out, observe.
Every page of this book offers small pleasures of language — Chinese ribs with a 'glandular sheen,' the 'rotted pucker' of sherry, both served at a party where Evie’s mother 'hovered nervously around the buffet: she’d put out chopsticks, but no one was using them, and I could tell this disappointed her.' That watchful, judgmental eye is unmistakably an adolescent girl’s, a perspective Cline renders perfectly. Cline is also skillful at maintaining suspense...If these were its only virtues, The Girls would be a good book. But it is more than that. By using fiction to explore the moral issues raised by a confounding historical event, it takes a shot at greatness.
Once digested, Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, will trail you like the heat of summer — snuggling its eerie plot under your cramped waistband, nestling its sentences in the sticky back of your neck.
Cline is a gifted stylist, and her subject is a sensational one, which is no doubt why her editors saw in The Girls the potential for a breakout literary thriller like Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. But I fear New York publishing has jumped the gun here. The weight of expectation that comes with the headline-grabbing book advance combined with Cline’s inexperience as novelist cancels out the many flashes of fine writing in The Girls, leaving the reader wishing this talented young writer had been allowed to develop slowly, under the radar, instead of being showered with cash and pre-publicity before her craft had caught up to her prodigious gifts.
Cline, 27, is already a master stylist. Each page of The Girls is laced with startling images, each sentence dressed with meticulous verbs ... That vivid language draws us into Evie’s world, allowing us to see the ranch through her bewildered, drug-heightened perspective. But Cline bucks restraint: at times, the language overshadows Evie’s emotions and her voice rings false. A few too many paragraphs contain clumps of overworked prose, abstract similes clinging to each another like dryer sheets ... Throughout the novel, Cline expertly plumbs gender politics to reveal the scrabbling need of girlhood, the learned ache to be noticed and named. Evie finds fulfillment not in Russell, but Suzanne. We find it in the pages of Cline’s arresting, propulsive debut.
The Girls is a fun, sad, quirky, insightful read. Since finishing it, I've seen it popping up on several summer reading lists on several literary sites, and I'm not at all surprised. It's a really solid book ... I thought The Girls rang with truths. I thought Emma Cline's writing was sometimes sickeningly gorgeous, often insightful, and always impressive. It's a great summer read, so long as you have a strong stomach for gruesome murders.