This week we’re taking a closer look at Powell’s Pick of the Month The Guest by Emma Cline.
I read most of The Guest
while on a much-delayed train ride between Portland and Seattle. The tracks lead passengers past incredible vistas of the Columbia River as well as right next to houses with residents who must be inured to the sensation of trains rattling their windows throughout the day and night. There is something about staring out from the window of a train that makes one feel anonymous, both distant and like one is trespassing, despite the fact that hundreds of other passengers share the view.
There is something about staring out from the window of a train that makes one feel anonymous, both distant and like one is trespassing.
This is the reason why trains have been the setting for innumerable thrillers over the years. It’s a very American experience, I think, that combination of wide-open spaces and the sort of rugged individualism that is premised on distrust.
Emma Cline is working with that raw material, several threads of those mythic American narratives, usually attributed to masculine archetypes: the drifter, the confidence man, the loner, the creep. The outline of this book is very much like a work by Denis Johnson
, except that the antihero is a 22-year-old woman. The lead character’s gender — and the author’s reputation as a gifted capturer of the zeitgeist surrounding contemporary young womanhood — work in tandem to show just how hollow so many of those archetypes always were. As the lead character makes her way across eastern Long Island, her actions parallel any number of Western male rogues, but everything will be viewed in a different light. Reader and character alike are trapped by this, as Cline intended.
Her actions parallel any number of Western male rogues, but everything will be viewed in a different light.
Cline motivates her characters in uneven layers, sometimes out of an obvious and primal urge, sometimes in a mystery to everyone involved. The structure of her novel is dictated by these layers. The result is thrilling and welcomes readers to witness everything with the understanding that they are trespassing. In The Guest
, it seems such violations are unavoidable.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month