Is there any time in life more precarious than adolescence, when you’re neither a child nor an adult but some strange hybrid with triple the emotional intensity? When you’re a teenager, the possibility for radical life twists is infinite. Every experience with someone new offers a potential path—or identity.
Brooklyn-based Emma Cline takes teens’ uncertain trajectory as her subject in her much-hyped debut, The Girls (Random House, $34, out today). The novel centres on 14-year-old Evelyn “Evie” Boyd and her chance encounter with Suzanne, a rebellious teenager with a dark side, in late ’60s California. Through Suzanne, Evie meets Russell, the grim leader of a hippy-dippy, death-to-pigs-like cult that enacts a murderous massacre upon a group of innocents, including a five-year-old boy and his mother. The novel is told in retrospect by a 50-something Evie, which makes it less a coming-of-age novel and more a spiritual reckoning. What could Evie have been if not for Suzanne? More important, what did Evie become?
The idea sparked for the Northern California native while she was reading a book about the Manson family: “There was one little throwaway line about this young girl who had been a very peripheral member, someone whose mother had written her a permission note to be with Charles Manson. She was 14 at the time. And she’s never mentioned again.”
Unlike the young woman who inspired her debut, Cline doesn’t seem destined to become a literary footnote. The Girls manuscript was the blue-ribbon baby of 2014: the film rights sold even before the book did, and the novel itself netted the then-25-year-old a rumoured $2-million three-book deal.
Cline is now focused on writing her next book, and happy to leave the script to Hollywood screenwriters—but she’s not above indulging in a little fantasy casting. “The only person I’ve ever thought of at all is Joaquin Phoenix as Russell. He’s got this weird, dark energy.”
Girls! Girls! Girls!
Dear Lord, are there ever a ton of books with “Girl” in the title (Thx, The Girl on The Train!). Here are the ones coming out this summer alone:
The Girls in the Garden [Formerly also titled The Girls]
The Lost Girls
The Good Girls
The Crow Girl
The Marked Girl
The Girl Before
Girl Against the Universe
Girl in Glass: Dispatches From the Edge of Life
Girls on Fire
Who’s That Girl
Beware that Girl
All the Missing Girls
Sarong Party Girls