"I LOOKED UP because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.
I noticed their hair first, long and uncombed. Then their jewelry catching the sun.
The three of them were far enough away that I saw only the periphery of their features, but it didn’t matter—I knew they were different from everyone else in the park. These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile."
If we want to tell the story of " The Girls ", we have to start from the first lines of the novel, from the incipit.
An accidental event that becomes destiny.
It was the end of the sixties, or the summer before the end, and that’s what it seemed like, an endless, formless summer. Everyone was healthy, tan, and heavy with decoration.
Evie Boyd, who tells the story as an adult, was fourteen that summer and that was the first time she ever saw Suzanne, who was nineteen years old—her black hair marking her, even at a distance, as different, her smile at her direct and assessing. She couldn’t explain it to herself, the wrench she got from looking at her. And what had the girl seen when she looked at her?
Suzanne smiled and Evie's stomach dropped. Suzanne was with other girls, but something seemed to pass between them, a subtle rearranging of air.
She had seen that the girls were dear to one another, the girls, that they’d passed into a familial contract—they were sure of what they were together.
Evy wanted to be a part of them as she thought girls were the only ones who could really give each other close attention. They noticed what they want noticed.
Suzanne said to Evy that she saw in her a thoughtful person and Evy was so happy for this consideration, as she was not used to this kind of unmediated attention. Especially from a girl.
Her parents, who were divorced, even in their separate, absorbing worlds, were disappointed in her, distressed by her mediocre grades. She was an average girl, and that was the biggest disappointment of all—there was no shine of greatness on her. She wasn’t pretty enough to get the grades she did. Sometimes she would be overtaken with pious impulses to do better, to try harder, but of course nothing changed.
So for her Suzanne represents a new and superior world.
Suzanne and the others girls lived in a community, the community of the guru Russel Hadron, clearly inspired by Charles Manson and his "family".
In the summer of 1969 Charles Manson and his "family" killed four people in Beverly Hills and Sharon Tate, the twenty six old wife of the director Roman Polanski.
The girl was eight months pregnant.
But the story isn't focused on Russel, the story is about a friendship, the friendship between Suzanne and Evy.
Since Evy had met Suzanne, her life had come into sharp, mysterious relief, revealing a world beyond the known world, the hidden passage behind the bookcase. Doing what Suzanne asked seemed like the best gift she could give her, a way to unlock her own reciprocal feelings.
She was with Suzanne. Her presence corralled any stray worries. Like the child who believes that her mother’s bedtime vigil will ward off monsters. The child who cannot decipher that her mother might be frightened, too. The mother who understands she can do nothing for protection except offer up her own weak body in exchange.
Like she and Evy were occupying the same song.
She thought they both knew what it was to be alone, though it seems silly to me now. To think they were so alike, when Evy had grown up with housekeepers and parents and she told her she had sometimes lived in a car, sleeping in the reclined passenger seat with her mother in the driver’s side. But they had other things in common, Suzanne and Evy, a different hunger. Sometimes she wanted to be touched so badly.
She saw the same thing in Suzanne, too.
When Suzanne borrowed a dress to her and braided her hair, it was an unexplained blessing for Evy.
Her parents were not affectionate, and it surprised her that someone could just touch her at any moment, the gift of their hand given as thoughtlessly as a piece of gum.
It was only sad in the old world, where money kept everyone slaves, where they buttoned their shirts up to the neck, strangling any love they had inside themselves.
She wanted this new world without end.
They were, Russell told them, starting a new kind of society. Free from racism, free from exclusion, free from hierarchy. They were in service of a deeper love.
She was wearing a dress that didn’t belong to her in a place she had never been, and she couldn’t see much farther than that. The possibility that her life was hovering on the brink of a new and permanent happiness.
She hadn’t realized until then how lonely she was. Or something less urgent than loneliness: an absence of eyes on her, maybe. It was nice to be the subject of someone’s admiration.
"You could be pretty, you could be wanted, and that could make you valuable." Because that’s what it was, mostly.
The ranch proved that Evy could live at a rarer pitch. That she could push past these petty human frailties and into a greater love. She believed, in the way of adolescents, in the absolute correctness and superiority of her love.
Everyone, later, would find it unbelievable that anyone involved in the ranch would stay in that situation. A situation so obviously bad. But Suzanne had nothing else: she had given her life completely over to Russell, and by then it was like a thing he could hold in his hands, turning it over and over, testing its weight. Suzanne and the other girls had stopped being able to make certain judgments, the unused muscle of their ego growing slack and useless. It had been so long since any of them had occupied a world where right and wrong existed in any real way.
Evy didn’t know what they were going to do. But she recognized a tinge of alarm, even then, and had the sense to spare her own home
Evy felt the presence of death seemed to color everything.
She had been frightened, yes. Maybe you could pin some of the silence on that fear, a fear she could call up even later, after Russell and Suzanne and the others were in jail. But it was something else, too. The helpless thoughts of Suzanne. S he didn’t tell anyone because she wanted to keep her safe. Because who else had loved her? Who had ever held Suzanne in their arms and told her that her heart, beating away in her chest, was there on purpose?
No one had ever looked at her before Suzanne, not really, so she had become her definition. Her gaze softening Evy's center so easily that even photographs of her seemed aimed at her, ignited with private meaning. It was different from Russell, the way Suzanne looked at her, because it contained him, too: it made him and everyone else smaller. They had been with the men, they had let them do what they wanted. But they would never know the parts of themselves that they hid from them—they would never sense the lack or even know there was something more they should be looking for.
Evy tried to make sense of this moment, to hold an image of Suzanne in her mind. Suzanne Parker. The atoms reorganizing themselves the first time she’d seen her in the park. How her mouth had smiled into hers.
How Suzanne stopped her from doing what she might be capable of. And so she set her loose into the world like an avatar for the girl she would not be. She would never go to boarding school, but she still could, and she sent her spinning from her like a messenger for her alternate self. Suzanne gave Evy that: the poster of Hawaii on the wall, the beach and blue sky like the lowest common denominator of fantasy. The chance to attend poetry class, to leave bags of laundry outside her door and eat steaks on parents’ visiting days, sopping with salt and blood.
It was a gift.
Suzanne was not a good person. She understood this. But she held the actual knowledge away from herself. Shr only ever saw her again in photographs and news reports. Still. She could never imagine her absence as permanent. Suzanne and the others would always exist for her; she believed that they would never die. That they would hover forever in the background of ordinary life, circling the highways and edging the parks. Moved by a force that would never cease or slow.
Then, the sudden presence of Suzanne in Evey's room, only with a photo: her hot feral smile, the pudge of her breasts. She could call up disgust for her, she should get rid of her, she knew, the image already charged with the guilty air of evidence. But she couldn’t. She turned the picture over, burying it in a book she’d never read again. The second photo was of the smeary back of someone’s head, turning away, and she stared at the image for a long moment before she realized the person was her.
Già lo sapevo, che il libro era liberamente - molto liberamente - ispirato alla setta di Charles Manson, ed è il motivo per cui, non sapendo niente della vicenda, mi sono procurata e ho letto in parallelo anche una biografia del suddetto personaggio, perché poi durante la lettura mi deconcentra chiedermi che cosa sia "storia" e cosa "narrativa".
In realtà però ha ragione Patrizia, questa è tutta narrativa, e anche di ottimo livello. Non è un trattato sociologico, e tanto meno una compiaciuta rivisitazione di uno dei delitti più atroci, sanguinosi e crudeli della nostra memoria collettiva. Al contrario, questo è un romanzo di sentimenti, che esplora, analizza e soprattutto vive con profondità e acume straordinari. Si aggiungano una scrittura più all'altezza delle ambizioni e la perfetta traduzione di Martina Testa... Veramente consigliato.
E teniamo d'occhio Emma Cline, perché è giovanissima e questo è "solo" il suo primo romanzo.