I went back and forth about whether to read The Girls. With characters who mirrored Charles Manson’s family and a plot that included a murder similar to Sharon Tate’s, I worried this would be too violent to be enjoyable. Although there was a bit of violence in this, I was surprised with how the novel examined the psychological aspect of Evie, a young woman who joined the commune that fateful summer. Evie’s journey with the group was a riveting look at the teenage angst and isolation that unquestionably contributed to why so many impressionable girls followed Manson and took his order to murder in cold blood. That perspective left me pondering Evie’s life and personality long after I closed the book.
Here, Russel was the Charles Manson character, and Susan Aitken was played by Suzanne. The similarities were obvious and very well done. Evie was an impressionable teenager, whose loneliness led her to look for validation from within Russel’s group. Evie was immediately struck by Suzanne’s confidence and demeanor one afternoon in the park. Another chance encounter between the girls placed Evie on a path that led her away from her home and into the crazy world of these hippies.
Evie was a peripheral character to the actual murder. She did not take place in it, but had spent a great deal of time with Russel and his followers to provide significant insight into their lifestyles. What struck me the most about this story was that at the end Evie wondered whether she would have joined in the murder had she been instructed to go along. That brutal honesty made her a cryptic character just like the real women who acted out the horrors inflicted upon Sharon Tate.
There was a second narration here of Evie as an older woman in the present. I found it utterly unnecessary and just odd. It added to the strangeness of the novel with random sex, foul language, and violent innuendos, but didn’t provide much in the way of Evie’s state of mind in the years after her extrication from the group.
The author’s ability to hone in on the psychological aspect of the group think that plagued Manson’s actual followers made this book come alive with provocative questions.