Dear Emma Cline,
I’ve just finished The Girls. Congratulations on your first novel. I was particularly interested in reading your book because it primarily takes place in the 1960s and in California, where I lived at that time. I consider Sonoma County, where I graduated Cal State. my spiritual home.
You’re a fabulous writer. Every phrase, every sentence, bears the mark of careful, thoughtful crafting. “To believe that boys were acting with a logic we could someday understand.” “This [weed] was oily and dank and the cloying smoke it produced didn’t dissipate quickly.” “The low stucco motels by the off-ramp, the eucalyptus loomy and peppering the air.” (I confess I don’t understand the use of “loomy” but it sure sounds cool.) Congratulations on sustaining this level of literary intensity throughout the novel.
Your choice of a first-person narrative was a good one, that of an observant and somewhat weary Evie looking back upon her life when she was fourteen. Yet it’s with here I began to have misgivings. Evie and the other characters never came to life for me. They felt like paper cutouts of ‘60s hippies, which I would attribute to the old writing aphorism, “Write what you know.” You go quite far in creating the atmosphere, but it never made pictures in my mind (and this even though – or perhaps because – I lived through it, right there). I wondered why a fourteen-year-old girl with Evie’s depth had no emotional reactions to Mitch raping her. I wondered how she could recount the sordid details of the faux-Manson murders with such detail, since she wasn’t there to see them. In short, Evie doesn’t seem to feel very much, either as a teen or a mature woman.
In fact, I wondered just exactly what the faux-Manson murders contributed to the plot, which I felt was very thin to begin with. This was really much more of a coming-of-age story than a mass-murder thriller, and while the former is a good-enough story in and of itself, the murdering contributed nothing to it.
I think you became so enamoured of your elegant word choices, turns of phrase, similes and metaphors, that you found it difficult to lift your writing sights up to the plot level. But occasionally there were insights that were fine and true: “Why couldn’t relationships be reciprocal, both people steadily accruing interest at the same rate?” or “I mean that we didn’t quite believe it was enough, what we were offered, and Tamar seemed to accept the world happily, as an end point.”
Clearly, you’re off to a great start. Here’s to your continued writing success.