Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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February 24, 2016
Look! Look! I’m finally tackling the books on my TBR! It only took two whole months for me to pick something that wasn’t from the library or something bought recently, but whatever. I still have about 10 months to accomplish that book goal, right? Right!

The Virgin Suicides is one of those books that everyone seems to love, but I never knew why. Aside from the obvious spoiler in the title, I had no idea what I was getting into, so I let myself be carried away by the good reviews and the possibility of this being a book about cult mass suicides (doesn’t it sound like it could be?) when I picked this up and was thoroughly proven wrong upon reading the very first page, but also? I was completely hooked and ready to be immersed in this fantastical mystery.

The Virgin Suicides is told from the perspective of a group of unidentified men who, 20 years prior, lived in the same neighborhood as the Lisbons and their 5 daughters. These men were (and still are, given the accounts of the book) obsessed with the Lisbon girls, the mystery that seemed to surround them and the reasons why they all decided to commit suicide.

Over the years, the boys collected evidence they thought would be able to help them solve the mystery of the Lisbon sistersphotographs, objects that belonged to the girls, interviews of people that interacted with the girls during their trouble time, and other items, but they only seem to emphasize their obsession and help little in the struggle of making sense of the events of their youth. No matter how hard they try, there will always be a lot of unanswered questions about the suicides of the Lisbon girls.

First of all, I gotta say I really loved this book. It’s one of those books that I wasn’t entirely sure I was enjoying or understanding while I was reading it, and I found it aggravating at times, but it still has me thinking about it a week after I finished it. Like the narrator, it feels like I can’t get the Lisbon girls out of my head and it’s unnerving because the book is over, but the tragedy of it seems to have burrowed deep within and I can’t let it go.

It doesn’t help that the narration is so beautifully done. The story has a dreamy quality with beautiful imagery that at times made me feel nostalgic for a time and place that I never actually lived. It made me want to live on their street, witness the slow decay of their family and their house and the neighborhood who always watched from afar but never felt it necessary to intervene.

Yes, it all sounds very voyeuristic, but here’s the thing: The whole book has a voyeuristic feel to it. I mean, it’s a book about a group of boys talking about their decades-long obsession with a group of girls and their death. By all means, it should be gross and self-indulgent and to a point, it kinda is and it irritated me more than once, but Eugenides’ writing style and overall theme more than made up for it. He manages to capture perfectly the pain of adolescent love (and lust and confusion) and the battle of trying to make sense of the world that seems never-ending when you’re young. He also has the gift of pulling the reader in and locking them in place from the very first page, making them want to know more about these girls, but never deviating from the narration style, thus never giving the girls a much-needed voice.

I found this type of storytelling from the perspective of a group of people, particularly a group of men recalling memories and details of their adolescence, to be a perfect way to express the themes and message this novel is trying to get across. The Virgin Suicides isn’t a character study because the boys never really knew the girls or understood them and, more importantly, they never made any true effort to get to know them and so, as readers, we know nothing about the girls, either. All we’re really exposed to is the fantastical idea (and the fantasies) the boys have of the girls.

But what little we know of the Lisbon sisters speaks volumes of the tragedy that befell them and how preventable it was. The palpable obsession everyone seemed to have with their sexualitywhether it was their parents, who went to extreme lengths to protect their innocence, or this group of boys who saw them (and sometimes treated them) as sexual objectsis what I think ultimately drove them to their demise. What if instead of idolizing them, those boys had tried to befriend them? Or if instead of isolating them, their parents had had a more open relationship with their daughters and had tried to understand their feelings? If they hadn't been so detached from everything around them and felt so alone, would they still have committed suicide?

The Virgin Suicides is intense, jarring and beautifully written. It’s a book that makes you think and definitely leaves an impression on you and I totally recommend it! And did I mention the writing is amazing? Can’t wait to get my hands on more of Eugenides’ works!

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