The Girls is based loosely on the Manson cult and murders, well as close as Cline could possibly get without it being a word for word re-enactment of the events.
Even down to small details like one of the girls ( Manson girl Susan Atkins) forgetting her knife or the group picking the house because the owner (in the Manson murders that person was Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher) hadn’t kept his promise to Russell. The owner wasn’t in, so they killed the people who were there instead.
Let me be clear, using the Manson scenario isn’t a criticism, far from it, it just helps to put the story or the source into perspective. In fact I think it explains the mind-frame of these girls really well.
For me this book isn’t just about the complexity of girlhood or about the deep layer of the anger that is hidden behind the eyes of most young girls or women. This book is also about guilt, shame and the power of wanting to belong.
Young people are easily caught up in the nefarious confines of cult thinking and behaviour. In the midst of discovering themselves, sexuality and independence. Mixing all those things with drugs, alcohol and raging hormones.
The majority of them are trying to escape either the mediocrity of their lives or the pain of it. It makes them an easy mark for dangerous people like Manson or in this case Russell. On top of that one has to take this specific era into consideration.
From the very beginning the involvement of Evie in the cult and the horrific murders is played down, mostly by herself. In the end her presence at the murders comes down to one decision and literally to circumstance. Throughout the book her guilt is questionable. Is it though?
Isn’t her knowledge of the event and the perpetrators equal to being just as guilty. She knew who it was for months, as the police searched for answers and for the killers. Regardless of her age, and the fact she was threatened by the killers, does this not make her just as guilty?
I believe she thinks she is. Even after many decades, spending her life as an insignificant fly on the wall, burying her needs and desires in an attempt to go unnoticed. After all those years she still believes she deserves to be punished and fears the repercussions of her actions. Makes you wonder about the real level of her knowledge and involvement.
I think this is a fairly accurate portrayal of many of Manson’s followers. The ones who just slipped away into obscurity, after Manson and his murderous acolytes were found and put on trial. The cult followers who knew just as much as the others, knew who had committed the murders and were never brought to justice.
It’s interesting to read how Evie gets drawn in by the supposedly mysterious and exciting group. Everything is covered in a thin layer of unicorn glitter. Even when she is nothing more than a pimped out hooker, she still craves the attention and the sense of belonging.
On the other side we have the underlying message by Cline about girls and women. How the majority of us simply melt into the personalities society wants us to inhabit. We bury our real emotions deep inside and let the anger simmer away just below the surface.
From a very young age that anger at the injustice of being downtrodden, being caged and treated like a sub-human is swallowed by nearly all of us. As women we learn to live with and accept being the victims of other people’s desires, needs, violence and power plays. We become complacent and used to it. It’s the norm, how dare we speak out, right?
Even at fourteen Evie feels all those things. It’s the subconscious bond between the girls in the group, actually even those out of the group. The difference being that Connie and May vent their anger towards Evie, whereas the girls in the group take her into the inner sanctum and they then vent to others outside of the group.
Cline’s debut novel is an eye-opener and I expect we will hearing more from this fresh and innovative thinker. I really enjoyed the read.