Book Review: The Virgin Suicides
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: 2005 (Originally 1993)
Publisher: Warner Books
Number of Pages: 249
My Rating: 4
Summary from GoodReads.com:
The haunting, humorous and tender story of the brief lives of the five entrancing Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides, now a major film, is Jeffrey Eugenides’ classic debut novel.
The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.
I like to describe this book as a hauntingly beautiful story that you will never be able to forget. I give this one a warning, as it is about very dark subject matter (it’s titled The Virgin Suicides,I would have hoped you deduced that on your own) but it’s a unique coming-of-age story that I have re-read many times over the years simply due to the voice that the author writes in. Jeffrey Eugenides writes in an extremely dry, matter-of-fact way about a family that is totally opposite from matter-of-fact. But don’t be fooled when I say ‘dry’, his writing is impressive and I am constantly making notes in my book about passages that jump out at me. Simply amazing.
The story is told from the point of view of the neighbor boys about the Lisbon girls, and they are obsessed with them. The boys are looking back on their fixation with the girls when they were all young, and are reflecting on what happened and if things could have turned out any differently.
The Lisbons are a very conservative family that have five daughters: Cecilia, Lux, Mary, Bonnie, and Therese. These girls are gorgeous, unattainable, and mysterious, which makes the neighbor boys that much more fascinated by them. They constantly try to talk to them at school, or at the rare social events the girls are allowed, and secretly communicate with them when the girls are pulled out of school and can’t leave the house.
Their obsession grows at this point as they begin collecting items of the girls and trying to figure them out. They want to know everything they can about them and find ways to help them. Their efforts are wasted, however, as the girls have other plans.
The biggest thing I appreciated about this book, while eerie, was how real everything seemed. The voice of the narrator, the memories, the thoughts about the girls, the events, everything felt like it could have actually happened to a community as those would be things you would talk about for years and never be able to forget. The book not only addresses suicide and death, but also shows how that can affect individuals as well as an entire community. The Lisbons, and what they go through, follow these boys into adulthood and affect them in ways they may not notice. But they do know one thing- they will never be able to let go of those girls.
This book has haunted me ever since I read it many years ago, but it is one I find myself reading over and over again, still in awe of the writing and story. This book may not be happy. This book may not have the best subject matter. But this book is definitely a must read.