Evie Boyd is a middle-aged woman, living alone in her friend Dan’s house in LA, ruminating about the past. Her life up until now has been ordinary, but somewhat disappointing. So when she is visited by intruders in the middle of the night, and is reminded of how unsafe life can be—before she realizes that the intruders are Dan’s teenage son and girlfriend—she is once again back in the unsafe world she once inhabited. Even though she was merely on the fringes of that world. And feeling unsafe is better than feeling nothing at all.
But as her mind takes her back to the summer of 1969, we soon learn how the life she lives now was informed by her choices back then. How her fascination with a free-living group in the Bay Area, living on what they called the ranch, had captivated her. How she was mostly drawn in by one of the girls, a young woman of nineteen named Suzanne. What had drawn her to Suzanne back then, and why is her mind still working out the details of that time, even now, all these years later? Was it an infatuation? Did Suzanne and the other girls fill an empty space inside, the part that emphasized the blankness of her life? Would she have done what those girls finally did, or did she have a moral compass after all?
The Girls is a reminder of another story from that same year. The true story of Charles Manson and his followers, and while they are not mentioned in this novel, those who have lived and learned from the horrors will certainly see some similarities.
Was Evie simply a product of the times? Did her middle class life seem so empty that she was drawn into the colorful world of the family at the ranch? Was her attraction to Suzanne more about the appeal of the other girl’s dismissal of ordinary values? Or did Suzanne’s occasional dismissal of Evie herself only enhance the appeal?
I felt sorry for Evie, who had avoided the fate of the others because of a chance maneuver on Suzanne’s part, and who seemed to always be wishing she could have been more involved. Her flat life in the present made me feel sad, since she could have been grateful for what she somehow managed to escape. A story that kept me reading, even though the ending seemed inevitable. 4.5 stars.
***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.