Alex has found herself alone, without a home and penniless on the wealthy East End of Long Island. She walks along aimlessly in the hot sun, everything she owns in a small bag. When a couple pedal past her on their beach cruisers, Alex wonders idly about their story: “What sort of day lay ahead of them? Some easy waste of the afternoon. What possible worries would they have?”
It wasn’t always like this for Alex. Just a week earlier, she was the summer houseguest of Simon, who showered Alex with expensive jewelry, luxurious clothes and a buttery soft purse. All Alex had to do in return was pretend to be a demure young woman contemplating grad school and conceal her true identity: a desperate escort hiding from an unhinged ex from whom she stole a significant amount of money and drugs.
But as much as she tried to be a perfect guest, “every once in a while, Alex took one of Simon’s painkillers to stitch the looser hours together.” When she drinks too much at a party and jumps in the pool with the host’s much younger husband, Simon tells her it’s time for her to go. For the rest of this eerily heartbreaking novel, we follow Alex as she finds ways to survive until she can earn Simon’s forgiveness.
Author Emma Cline’s bestselling, award-winning debut novel, The Girls, was based loosely on the story of the Manson family murders, and she followed it up with a popular story collection, Daddy. The Guest is a worthy and unforgettable next step for Cline, whose style is spare yet beautiful. And while her main character is deeply flawed, Cline treats Alex with a gentleness that makes her situation all the more striking.
On its surface, The Guest is about a lost soul, a drifter who has no plan and no safety net. But this deeply felt novel also raises provocative questions about how our society treats young women. How can Alex be virtually invisible, wandering through a wealthy beach town without garnering a single second glance? She is like a ghost—never settled, never seen.