The plot of The Girls is propelled forward by a fictionalized version of the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and her house guests in 1969. However, if you’re looking for details and insight into the murders and The Family, I can recommend two or three other books that would be much more helpful. The Girls is more of an exploration of first love and the lengths we go to be near that person and our willingness to ignore their flaws as they become more and more apparent.
Our protagonist, Evie Boyd is 14 in the summer of 1969. She is becoming disenchanted with her suburban teenage existence and even more so with her newly divorced parents. It is at this time that she first sees Suzanne and her friends. They are grubby and frayed at the edges, but seem to move through the crowd like displaced royalty. It is Suzanne that draws Evie to this crowd, not Russell who is our literary stand-in for Charles Manson. The story is juxtaposed by Evie as an adult who seems to be living a somewhat unmoored existence. Evie is largely unaware of the more sinister undercurrents flowing at the ranch as she spends more and more time there. It’s only before the bloody and violent conclusion that she even begins to sense that something is very wrong with this group of people.
Emma Cline’s prose is lovely. She is able to capture so many aspects of girlhood and first love in ways that are sometimes uncomfortably accurate. Most women can recall abandoning themselves completely for a first love. But if that first love was one of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century? What would you do to stay in that person’s orbit?