Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Guest by Emma Cline

The Guest
by Emma Cline
Read by Carlotta Brentan
8 hours, 36 minutes
Published May 2023 by Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
“Alex drained her wineglass, then her water glass. The ocean looked calm, a black darker than the sky. A ripple of anxiety made her palms go damp. It seemed suddenly very tenuous to believe that anything would stay hidden, that she could successfully pass from one world to another.”

Summer is coming to a close on the East End of Long Island, and Alex is no longer welcome.

A misstep at a dinner party, and the older man she's been staying with dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city.

With few resources and a waterlogged phone, but gifted with an ability to navigate the desires of others, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts like a ghost through the hedged lanes, gated driveways, and sun-blasted dunes of a rarefied world that is, at first, closed to her. Propelled by desperation and a mutable sense of morality, she spends the week leading up to Labor Day moving from one place to the next, a cipher leaving destruction in her wake.

Taut, propulsive, and impossible to look away from, Emma Cline's The Guest is a spellbinding literary achievement.

My Thoughts: 
I read Emma Cline's debut, The Girls, in 2016 and was impressed with her writing and looked forward to reading more of her work. A lot of people were impressed with Cline's writing - so impressed that she was given a $2 million advance for three books. This is her third (the second was a collection of short stories). Was she worth $2 million? Hard to say; there are so many incredibly skilled authors who have earned so much less that it would seem she isn't. Unless publishers are going to start paying authors an amount of money that allows them to do nothing but write great novels. 

Still, she's absolutely a skilled author. Here she made me care about what's going to happen to Alex, a call girl who can't return to her apartment (her roommates have kicked her out, due to her not paying her rent and stealing from them), a drug addict, and there's so little to really know about her. That's intentional. Alex is a girl who lives her life pretending to be the person that she needs to be for the people she's with. We're well into the novel before we even find out that she has stolen a lot of money from Dom, a man who is incessantly reaching out to her, trying to track her down. It's hard to feel sorry for her, except that she seems to be a person who has exhausted all possibilities and who is in real trouble. 

When we meet Alex, she's with Simon, a wealthy older man who wants a Barbie on his arm. Alex knows it won't last...until he kicks her out and she is suddenly certain that he likes her well enough to take her back, if she can just wait him out and time her re-entry into his world at the right time. Meanwhile, Alex has no money, no car, only a bag of clothes, and a phone that's hardly working. But Alex is clever, more clever than the people who live in the area Simon lives in. She is able, again and again, to insinuate herself into people's lives, getting a night of sleep here, a meal there. People are slow to believe a person who seems to belong might not so they allow her into their privileged lives...until they don't. But while they're doing it, Cline gives us a window into the dark side of the lives of the rich and famous. 

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