Girl Interrupted

What's the appeal of cults? Why do people drop off the grid to go live in a hovel led by someone who has delusions of grandeur or godhood? What drives people to willfully overlook obvious danger to themselves or others? These questions are all tackled by a book that got a lot of critical praise last year, Emma Cline's 2016 novel, The Girls.

As an adult, Evie Boyd is a fairly isolated woman, who helps look after others rather than living any real life of her own. Some teenagers who barge into the guest house where she's staying recognize that she was part of a cult way back in the '60s, and are curious to know what that was like. The bulk of the book is Evie stirring up all those memories, trying to make sense of her involvement.

Evie had a fairly standard childhood, though her parents are pretty emotionally neglectful. Her dad runs off to start a new life with another woman, and her mom takes solace in hippie nonsense. Evie finds emotional support in Suzanne, a girl she finds endlessly cool and intriguing. Suzanne takes Evie back to a compound where a group of girls scrounge off the land while obeying every whim of Russell, the charismatic leader.

Evie is thrilled to find a place where she's accepted, and gets drawn into the group's charm, rationalizing all of the red flags that begin to pop up with increasing regularity. The cult is soon hurtling towards actions far more alarming than dumpster diving, and Evie is called upon to make serious choices about her loyalty.

People seemed to really love this book when it came out, but it left me a bit cold. I can definitely give credit to Cline for weaving a world of believable decay; I could almost feel the gross conditions of the cult's compound and everyone living there on my skin. She also did a good job in making Evie's journey from standard suburban teenager to cult member understandable. That said, Evie's obsession with Suzanne is somewhat contrived, and Cline's prose tends to be a little too in love with similes and metaphors.

The Girls is one of those books that was definitely worth the read, and if asked, I'd certainly recommend it to certain friends, but is beloved to a degree I don't understand. This is where I'd attempt a joke about cults if I felt more strongly about the book. As it is, it's a pretty good read that may not deserve its reputation, but still has a lot to offer.

The Girls: B


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