I’ll admit that the main reason I read this book was because I was curious. Not in the usual way that leads me to pick up any book; I was, truthfully, only a little curious about the plot and the characters. They did sound intriguing, since this book was inspired by the Charles Manson cult which I’ve been interested in ever since reading Helter Skelter. But no, that’s not the main reason I read this book. I read this book because I was intensely curious about a debut novel that sold for $2 million. (For reference, the average book advance for a debut is about $5,o00. You might get $10,000. If you’re lucky.) $2 million is celebrity memoir money.
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
Had I read the blurb, I might have known what I was getting myself into. Because The Girls is being touted as a book “for fans of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad,” and, as it turns out, I feel exactly the same about both books (you can check out my review for A Visit from the Goon Squad here, though I probably should apologize, because it’s not my most well-written review). Put simply: the writing is beautiful, but it doesn’t fit the story, and I cannot bring myself to care about any of the characters. I wanted to like this book, because the writing is just so pretty on it’s own. But the characters are dead. I can’t say that they’re flat, because they’re not exactly. They’re just really not the kind of characters I feel anything for. I was more invested in Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, which is a true crime recounting of the Manson murders and trial. When I don’t care about the characters, I don’t really care what happens to them, and the story falls flat. Which is exactly what happened with this book.
This is a bit of a deceptive rating, because I didn’t love this book. I’m not even sure I really liked it. I didn’t like the characters. The plot was okay. The writing, as I’ve mentioned, is utterly beautiful, which probably elevated this book by about two stars for me. However, as the book progresses, I became increasingly annoyed by the combination of the writing and the plot. The writing was so descriptive and lovely that it almost tricked me into thinking I was reading an amazing story. By the end of the novel, the word that was floating around in my brain had shifted from “beautiful” to “overwritten.” I think I would love to see Cline’s style applied to a more fitting plot, or to see this story told more sparsely. This book just didn’t click for me.
So, moment of truth: do I think this book was worth $2 million? Nope. I think the price of this book was driven up by a bidding war, and the hype surrounding it is the product of an aggressive advertising campaign sponsored by a publisher trying to justify a ridiculous price tag. Had this book been acquired for a fraction of it’s cost and released quietly, it might have earned it’s hype. So far, the early reviews have been mixed, so I’m curious to see what happens when the general public gets their hands on it.
The Girls will be available for purchase starting June 14.
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.