An award-winning young author uses Charles Manson and his followers as the inspiration for her first novel.
Evie Boyd is in a city park the first time she sees the girls. With their bare feet and long hair and secondhand dresses they offer a vision of life beyond her suburban, upper-middle-class experience. “Like royalty in exile,” they suggest the possibility of another world, a world separate from the wreckage of her parents’ marriage, from the exacting lessons gleaned from teen magazines, from the unending effort of trying to be appealing. What 14-year-old Evie can’t see that day is that these girls aren’t any freer than she is. Shifting between the present and the summer of 1969, this novel explores the bitter dregs of 1960s counterculture. Narrating from middle age, Evie—like the reader—knows what’s going to happen. But Evie has had decades to analyze what she did and what was done to her, and Cline peoples her version of this oft-examined story with carefully crafted characters. The star in Evie’s solar system isn’t Russell, the Manson stand-in. Instead, it’s Suzanne, the young woman who becomes Evie’s surrogate mother, sister, lover, and—finally—protector. This book is, among other things, a love story. Cline makes old news fresh, but she also succumbs to an MFA’s fondness for strenuously inventive language: “Donna spooked her hands dreamily.” “The words slit with scientific desire.” “I felt the night churn in me like a wheel.” These metaphors are more baffling than illuminating. And Evie’s conclusion that patriarchal culture might turn any girl deadly feels powerfully true at first but less so upon reflection. Suzanne and her accomplices don’t turn on their oppressor like righteous Maenads; instead, they sacrifice themselves on his behalf. And there’s also the simple fact that very few girls become mass murderers.
Vivid and ambitious.