The Guest

Grifters come in many guises, such as that of 22-year-old Alex, the New York sex worker who is the protagonist of The Guest, a novel by Emma Cline (The Girls). "Guest" is one way to describe someone who cozies up to prominent people and helps herself to their money, painkillers, and more. In just two years in New York, Alex has stolen from roommates and is banned from certain restaurants, including one in which "she'd tried to charge dinner to an old client's account." An ex-con named Dom, to whom Alex owes a lot of money, would like to talk to her. Yet Alex spots a lifeline: 50-ish divorcé Simon invites her to spend August at his posh Long Island home--until, that is, she damages his car and engages in shenanigans so upsetting that, right before Labor Day weekend, he suggests she return to the city.

Like all good grifters, Alex doesn't give up easily. She decides to hang around the East End for the next six days, wait Simon out, then return to his house for his weekend shindig. The bulk of this entertainingly disturbing novel dramatizes her beach-town adventures over those intervening days: ingratiating herself with drunk, young, privileged types she doesn't know, finagling her way into another wealthy man's home, and other duplicitous acts, some of which have heartrending consequences. Cline could have delved more deeply into Alex's character, but The Guest is still an unnerving portrait of desperation, born of lousy judgment and class-based prejudices. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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