Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides


Once upon a time (in the 1970s), there were five sisters: Cecilia, Therese, Mary, Lux and Bonnie – the Lisbon girls. But Cecilia, the youngest, killed herself. And then, by the end of that one year, there were none.

The Virgin Suicides, written by a collective ‘we’ (as opposed to ‘I’, or in third person), traces the events that occurred from the first attempted suicide, to the last, from the eyes of young boys (school mates and neighbors of the Lisbon girls) who are now middle-aged, and still reflecting on the life and times of the enchanting, mesmerizing teenage girls, short, round-buttocked in denim, with roundish cheeks.

The reader takes a trip with them down memory lane in the 1970s elm-streeted America, as they present various ‘exhibits’  (a polaroid of their house, canvas high-tops, a brassiere), interview people who knew the Lisbon girls (including their parents), and remember the only time the girls went to a dance, or, the ‘party’ in the basement of their house, which was followed by the first successful suicide. There were unsigned notes exchanged, a telephone conversation which had the boys and the Lisbon girls playing music back and forth to one another, and of course, the strong presence of the mother’s strong Catholic roots, which prompted her to admonish the girls for make-up, bleaching, wearing halter-tops etc.

While this book touches on a very depressing subject, the casual and conversational nature of the book, coupled with the ‘legacy’ the Lisbon girls left behind hardly makes the reader reach for a pack of tissues.

They (the Lisbon girls) became too powerful to live among us, to self-concerned, too visionary, too blind. What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself. […] They made us participate in their own madness, because we couldn’t help but re-trace their steps, re-think their thoughts, and see that none of them led to us.

There’s something creepy, almost stalker-like, about these boys, who used to gaze at the Lisbon house, in search for any indication of the Lisbon sisters, and what they were doing – be it looking through their window panes, or keeping an eye on their father, as he would mirror their well-being (this is after the girls rarely, if ever, left home). An element of unrequited love, the curiosity of adolescence and the enigma that surrounded the five sisters, who most people couldn’t differentiate by name – the book in a nutshell!

The one thing that baffles me is, there was never any reason given for the first suicide. While the narrators were contemplating on that as well, no conclusive answer was reached, despite them having perused Cecilia’s journal. What prompts a thirteen year old to first slit her wrists, and when that doesn’t kill her, jump and impale herself on a fence, while a party is going on in the basement?

This is a fantastic debut novel, but, it also leaves a lot to be desired. For one, suicide can’t be trivialized, and specially not the suicide of five teenage sisters, which ends up tearing the family apart – or, what’s left of it anyway! I also found the characters intriguing, but I couldn’t relate to them in any way, shape or form: be it Cecilia, always wanting to wear a wedding dress, or Lux, who has innumerable sexual encounters on the roof of her own house – her parents wouldn’t be able to see her. The rest of the neighborhood would!

However, after reading this, I am looking forward to reading Middlesex, as I really enjoyed the style of writing.

Rating: 3

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