‘My Favourite Manson Girl’ is the story of Anna, a teenager who runs away from her dysfunctional family to join her sister in LA, where she is offered a job to research the Charles Manson cult. Published by Little, Brown Book Group, this is Alison Umminger’s second novel.
This book has received a lot of buzz over the past few weeks. There is the obvious comparison to be made to Emma Cline’s ‘The Girls’ (review here), which is about the Manson girls. Other than the fact that these books are about the same cult, I really don’t think that they’re all that connected. There’s violence and insidious danger in both, to be sure, but they are tonally quite different, I think. I’ll be honest, I preferred ‘The Girls’, just because it was so beautifully written.
However, ‘My Favourite Manson Girl’ definitely has some interesting features. The psychology of the relationship between mothers and daughters was particularly well done, as well as that between sisters. It is made very clear that the mother has psychologically damaged both Anna and her sister, but it is written in such a loving and complex way, that it made it quite fascinating. There was the problem that Anna’s mother had divorced her father, and married another woman – and therefore immediately classed as a lesbian. (Bisexuality is never mentioned.) The mother’s characterisation could perhaps also be classed as that of the big-bad-lesbian, which didn’t sit particularly well with me.
Other characters were very interesting, however. There is great exploration of the nature of child stardom, and celebrities’ desperate attempt to cling onto their fame. There are screenwriters who are a bit too dedicated to method acting, producers who are more than willing to sleep with young actresses, and homeless men dying on the streets. The LA in ‘My Favourite Manson Girl’ is not sugarcoated, which makes it absolutely real.
The novel did puzzle me. I assumed, for some reason, that it took place in the 80s and 90s, despite its frequent reference to cell phones and texting. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t sound like a modern novel, for some reason. Also, although the Manson cult was extremely interesting, I don’t quite understand why it was chosen. There’s been a lot of talk about how Anna, if she had lived in the 60s, could have become a Manson girl herself. This I just do not see.
‘My Favourite Manson Girl’ is definitely a summer read – short, interesting, and star-studded, this is a novel I enjoyed reading, despite its flaws.