How sad a life as a “guest” can be… Alex’s desolate story in Emma Cline’s new novel

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By John

Seven years after the success of “The Girls”, his debut novel in 2016, Emma Clinetalented young Californian writer, also known for «Harvey», the long story in which she looks at America through the narrative voice that follows Harvey Weinstein twenty-four hours after his trial, returns with «The guest» (Einaudi, trans. by Monica Pareschi), a story of chilling sadness right from the title, as ambiguous as the term itself.

Twenty-two-year-old Alex, “tall and thin enough to seem beautiful”, a marginal existence that seems without a past and without a family, also a guest of life (now welcome, now unwelcome as happens to most guests), a condition for which she seems to continually apologize , having arrived “in the city”, in New York, presumably from the deep American province, spends her fragile time getting lost: from one hour to another, from one man to another, from a bar, from a hotel, from a house to house, everything temporary, sex as a passepartout for a small life to be lived day by day, among expedients that create a void around her.

But after the brief affair with the petty criminal Dom, Alex, who is “lucky” to understand the “interest” in the gaze of certain men, meets the rich Simon, thirty years older than her, who “hosts” her at his mansion on Long Island. They are not very different, she and Simon, because they both play “the game of convincing others that things have a certain value”, and then the life of a “guest”, including the refined clothes bought by Simon, so that he can do his “figure” in environments inaccessible to most people, Alex succeeds well for the docility with which he adapts to everything, and moreover for passing himself off as what he is not «just transform into vapor so that things pass through it better» . Until the evening when at a party, through a “sick and at the same time impeccable impulse” she meets Victor, another rich inhabitant of the Hamptons, in whose gaze she finds “that minimal gap of energy, of mutual recognition”. They take a dip in the pool together, a bad idea which results in Alex being shown the door by Simon.

Five days of suspension follow (rendered very well by Cline’s narrative tension until the epilogue) in which Alex «moves with inertia from one moment to the next, from one sensation to another, in which he takes note of the facts and puts them aside part”, deluding themselves that “one’s life has value”.
Five days to spend before the Labor Day holiday in Simon’s villa where he dreams of presenting himself again; meanwhile, without resources, the bag with the clothes always clutched to him, he wanders around “like the ghost he had always imagined himself to be”, between places of “an abundance that has something intoxicating”, between domestic totems and situations of «predictable social script», between children and parents «who did not speak to each other but were united by a primordial fact, the family», and the sea with which he often wants to merge to forget the crap of the world.