The easiest way to describe the debut novel of the 28-year-old American Emma Cline as a story about a sect – and this, in general, will be almost true.
The 14-year-old Evie, the granddaughter of a Hollywood star, just divorced parents (her father escaped with a young beauty, her mother frantically trying to build a new “personal life” on the ruins of her previous marriage), she had a falling out with a single girlfriend, there was no boyfriend and no, but the window is a sultry Californian summer and the farewell bonfire of the sixties is burning down. Once in a city park, Evie, worn in solitude, meets three wild-looking girls; dirty, ragged and exhausted, they at the same time look inexpressibly free and haughty – the real queens in exile. A few days later, the fatum, which took on the shape of a bicycle that had broken at the side of the road, brings Evie with the girls again. It turns out that they live on a semi-abandoned ranch next door and enter a commune, whose leader, the soul healer and the future great musician Russell, teaches his followers (mostly followers) to love each other and despise through rotten social norms.
Little by little, Evie is drawn into the life of the commune, but unlike the rest of the “girls”, she is attracted to the ranch not so much by worshiping Russell, as half-childly and almost sexless love for Suzanne – the brightest and bold girl she saw that day in the park. Drugs, sex, cheerful poverty and absolute freedom – intoxicated by all this, Evie does not immediately notice that clouds are gathering over the ranch, that Russell will never become a great musician (and in general no one, except his “girls”, he seems to be special) and that in the air obviously smells great, terrible misfortune, and even blood and death.
In a word, formally, the Cline novel really tells about the sect, and the sect is quite specific: in Russell’s “girls”, the reader can easily recognize the Manson Family, who has at least seven brutal murders in California in the summer of 1969. However, there is a second (and in fact, of course, the first and main) story in “The Girls”, and this is a story about love – or rather, about its tragic shortage and about what we are ready to go to get at the universe even a drop above the measured norm.
The heroine of “The Girls” is a teenager, disliked, lonely, defenseless in front of someone else’s eyes, and therefore he always sees himself as strangers — usually indifferent — with his eyes (“At that age I was primarily a subject of evaluation and only always was on the side of my interlocutor”). Her blind thirst to be truly seen, to be accepted and understood so invincible, which allows her to successfully ignore the numerous warning signals: the spoiled food that ranchers eat and the dirt in which they live (“rot” and “stench” – a little are not the most frequent words in the novel), constant narcotic fog, semi-forced rough sex, humiliation, threats, extortion. For one attentive glance, for one gentle touch, Evie is ready to give everything she has and steal the missing in order to pay the fee in full. Cline with almost physiological accuracy recreates the aching teenage sensation that itches into the soul of any reader, regardless of age (readers under the age of twenty will probably feel that they have stuck their hands in their hearts and moved their fingers a little).
The merciless need for love and the sucking inner emptiness that requires filling become the engine of the novel, and the sect pulling the heroine into its networks is a metaphor for “all the bad” that can happen to a person caught in the grip of this demon. Therefore, remaining a novel about the sect and its cementing mechanisms, “The Girls” by Emma Cline is first a novel about feelings, about youth and the throes of growing up, accurate, deep and universal.