The Guest by Emma Cline
Published by Random House
Publication date: May 16, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Alex has spent her adult years learning from her mistakes, especially when it comes to men. More specifically, men with money, the only kind who interest her. She’s 22 and has been living in Manhattan for years working as an escort, trying to live out the Pretty Woman script, where a wildly wealthy man falls in love with her and all her dreams come true. Except, this is the real world and in Emma Cline’s new novel, The Guest, Alex is running out of time and options.
With most of her summer successfully spent at the fully-staffed Hamptons estate of Simon, a man twice her age, Alex is relaxing, anticipating their move back to Manhattan and her installation in his penthouse for as long as she wants. Sadly, this ‘relaxing’ leads to two foolish mistakes that end with her being dropped off at the train station to head back to NYC and her old life. Which is not an option as she’s alienated her roommates and stolen a lot of money from an ex who wants it back. She has to stay in the Hamptons.
The Guest takes place during the 5 days that Alex has to fend for herself until she can try and win Simon back at his huge Labor Day bash. She sleeps on the beach, pretends to babysit a 6-year-old boy to get into a country club, and manages to navigate her way to resting spaces as the nights pass. Her looks and pliability work in her favor, but with each choice she’s painting herself further and further into a corner .
As sculpted by Cline, The Guest’s condensed timeline moves with the enervating slowness of a baking summer day and the terrifying speed of a car crash. Alex’s situation elicits a perverse desire to stare, craning one’s neck, knowing that what is unfolding is going to be bad. There’s no looking away as she careens from one obstacle to another, seemingly unable to course correct, even as she reminds herself that she’s got this handled. Her childlike faith in her skills as an enchantress of old men juxtaposed against her unslakable thirst for more of everything is startling in one so jaded.
The lack of connection, the detached air and cynicism that pervades The Guest reminded me of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. Both were written with a pane of glass between reader and page. This clinical remove is refreshing for anyone who reads a lot of emotionally charged fiction. There’s no cost to reading because there’s no investment. Alex isn’t meant to evoke sympathy. Or abhorrence. She’s devoid of emotion herself. All that’s left is curiosity about the outcome and thanks to Cline’s facility with words and pace The Guest kept me reading until the final sentence.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase of any kind, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
*I received a free copy of this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review.*