Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
I remember the large amount of hype behind this book when it first released, and then the very average ratings it seemed to be getting. I had been interested in it, hearing through the grapevine that it was about a cult, and that seemed very interesting and thrilling to me. But university started and time slipped away and I never got around to it.
The last semester, we just so happened to read a short story by Emma Cline in a class, and it ended up being one of my favorites. When I saw that they had this at my library, I decided to check it out.
First, let me start this off by saying that Cline is a very strong writer. She most definitely has a long career ahead of her, and her prose are extremely impressive. I’m going to share a few of my favorite quotes that I highlighted throughout the book:
- All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.
- The feeling of exposure gave me an anxious pleasure that made me stand straighter, holding my head on my neck like an egg in a cup.
- “Fuck,” I said, then said it louder. I wanted to kick the bicycle, silence something, but that would be too pitiful, the theater of upset performed for no one.
The last one is, perhaps my favorite.
The beginning of this book started off very promising. It was very elusive in the way that it was chilling, a sort of hidden provocativeness behind growing up and figuring out your own skin.
When “the girls” finally entered, it seemed like the book was finally getting to the gritty. And, oh, it got gritty. But, when it got down to it, there never really seemed to be a point to any of it. It wasn’t a coming-of-age. And there was definitely no moral, at least for me. (Unless don’t join a cult is a moral?)
This “cult” didn’t seem to be as scarily portrayed as I seemed promised, and the main character, Evie, soon became this shell to highlight what would end up almost being nothing. Needless to say, the book bored me as it progressed, and when it finally got to the moment that everyone had been waiting for, it really lacked. I can be a fan of slow burns, as The Witch Elm has been one of my absolute favorites this year.
In the end, the writing is strong, I just did not see a single point to this book minus the overuse of the word “pink” and the rape of a fourteen year-old girl, both of which are not good points in the first place.
What book has disappointed you the most this year? Let’s chat in the comments!