The Girls, by Emma Cline; American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, by Jeffrey Toobin

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It was pure serendipity that I read these books back-to-back in the space of a week last fall. I read The Girls first and then, within the first few pages of American Heiress it became clear to me that, together, they represented not just two notorious crimes, but something much larger: read together, they are an unintended portrait of a period in American history.

The Girls is the fictionalized tale of Charles Manson and his followers. The names and locations are changed and the grisly details are (mostly) gone. The story is told by Evie Boyd, who was fourteen when she first encountered the bedraggled, sexy glamor of the girls who followed their charismatic leader, a small, unimpressive man named Russell. Beguiled by girls Evie describes as “sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water,” she joins their world for a few months preceding the murders. Much of the book is set in that period, as Evie drifts between the unmoored life she lives with her mother, and the careless, druggy enticements of Russell’s world on the edge of town – “an orphanage for raunchy children.” Continue reading