It is very clear early on in Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls that the story is drenched in a nostalgic sadness that covers ever page like morning dew. Loosely based on the Manson killings, it presents a complex female narrator looking back from middle age on her time with a hippie like cult that slowly and inevitably became murderous. It is a smart first novel, mining territory that is fresh and imbued with the feelings of the time period but also universal themes as well: the sense of promise that comes with the onset of adolescence, the joy in someone you admire showering you with attention and the disappointment that comes from figuring out the harsh realities of the world and the nefarious beings who exploit such malleability, and I feel it is the perfect predecessor to something like Jeffery Eugendies The Virgin Suicides. The story is told from the perspective of Evie Boyd, who, at the beginning of the novel, has wandered ineloquently into middle age and is spending some time a at friends house, but the bulk of the book takes place in the summer 1969 where she is a budding 14 year old, dealing with her parents divorce and the impending stint at a boarding school. At a local park she spots the girls, one of which, Suzanne, leads her into the world of Russell, a Manson-like cult leader and wannabe musician living out in the desert. It is a predictable narrative with rather weak characterization, with all the male characters being poorly rendered, especially Russell. But where this book succeeds is in it intense and moody atmosphere, steeped in a regret that only becomes perverse in its sad and expertly executed final pages, where we see how Evie sees herself in the scope of her life and the crimes committed. It’s a rather beautiful book that does a good job at conveying the sadness of missed opportunities, even when they are menacing and disturbing.