It was just a couple years back I realised that Virgin Suicides was based on a book written by Jeffrey Eugenides. I planned to read it and finally bought the book last week. The book is republished by Picador Modern Classic and has a beautiful cover that I think suits the atmosphere of the story (by then I hadn’t read it – only remembered the nuance of the movie I had seen 13 years ago – melancholic and dreamy).
The Virgin Suicides was narrated by one of the teen boys who were obsessed with the Lisbon girls: Mary, Therese, Lux, Bonnie and Cecilia. The boys spent their days and nights watching the girls’ house and saw them as something unreal. It could be seen since the beginning that the girls weren’t brought up normally. Their mother was very strict and religious; their father – a math teacher in their school – always listened to his wife and didn’t have much say about how things ran at their household.
The girls weren’t allowed to date, go out or socialize the way other teen girls their age did. This made them special, something beautiful and unreal, they became popular and adored because of their weirdness and eccentricity – as if they lived in their own bubble, unlike other girls their age. One day, in their neighbourhood in a quiet suburb in American Midwest, the youngest, Cecilia Lisbon attempted suicide by slitting her wrists with razor. At first, she wasn’t succeeded, but she managed to do it the second time.
Then the story continued with how Cecilia’s death affected the other sisters and the family. Page by page we could sense that death was coming to the sisters (it wasn’t a spoiler, the author made it clear in the first sentence that all the Lisbon girls were going to die in the book) and like the boys who were obsessed with them, I became obsessed as well. How interesting it was that Jeffrey Eugenides chose an outsider to be the narrator. The narrator wrote or told the stories years after the suicides happened. Possibly he himself was an adult by that time, retracing the past by collecting exhibits (photographs, soaps, letters, notes of the Lisbon girls) and interviewing people (the parents – separated by now, the teachers, the girl’s doctors, their friends, and lovers) in hope to find explanation of what had happened.
The New York Times Book Review said that Mr.Eugenides was blessed with the storyteller’s most magical gift, the ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary. I couldn’t agree more. The story itself was a walk to the past (from the man/boy point of view) and somehow it didn’t have climax and explanations. But here is the strange thing: we understand and we feel the suspense. The author spent a good deal of the book describing things, mostly the house of Lisbon family, the street, the neighbours in such details and so poetic. But just enough that the descriptions didn’t make the story ‘heavy’, but enough to make the reader became one of the boys – obsessed with the Lisbon girls.
Here is the first sentence of the book:
On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement room which it was possible to tie a rope.
I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed this book. Although it was about suicides, and clearly the parents had a lot to do with their daughters suicides, it wasn’t explained much in the book. The narrator managed to interview Mrs Lisbon several years after the incidents but she was unhelpful and angry about it. The school therapist fled the town after the last Lisbon girl took her own life. There was no girlfriends close enough to give reasons. I guess it was left for debate what made them do it. What was wrong inside their house? Why couldn’t their parents help them? It was a very sad and a melancholic story, what the narrator did was like trying to awake a memory of dead mythical goddesses. Beautiful, short-lived, and ethereal girls who live forever in the back of their heads. Never died.
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES by JEFFREY EUGENIDES
Picador Modern Classic. 2015
Cover Design by Kelly Blair. Cover Photograph by Eva Ritchie. Art Direction by Henry Sene Yee