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Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (5/5)

14 Sep

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. I really liked Eugenides’ Middlesex and wanted to read his entire backlog immediately. I read The Marriage Plot and found it was okay, but not what I had hoped for. I’d heard amazing things about this book and I’ve attempted to squeeze it in between other book obligations before but hadn’t been able to until now. I’m so glad I finally did and also got it to pull me out of a reading slump that was hard to shake.

Cover image via Amazon

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Other books by Eugenides reviewed on this blog:

Middlesex (and Book Club Reflection)
The Marriage Plot

Summary from Amazon:

In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters―beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys―commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family’s fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time.

It’s interesting to me that the summary says the book takes place in Detroit because I don’t remember it ever being stated but I recognized my city well enough from the description. Anyway. This book was one of my favorites this year. The suspense was amazing. You know from the beginning that all of the Lisbon girls die by suicide, so that’s not ruining anything. The question is why. I’m not sure we ever get an answer. The story is told from a collective point of view of the boys growing up in the same neighborhood who are attending school with the girls and see their lives from the outside. I thought this was a fascinating way to tell the story and I really enjoyed the investigative method the boys had of looking into the Lisbon suicides.

The only real characters in the story were the Lisbon girls. Because of the collective narrative voice, none of the neighborhood boys had much of a role. Since the girls didn’t narrate, we don’t know what they thought or how the felt about the boys outside of their conjecture. We don’t know what happened in their house when no one was there, either. There’s a lot we don’t know about the girls but we can gather that Cecilia likely suffered from mental health issues and the other girls should have seen therapists. I think the distance from the girls made them seem more mysterious and added to the sense of foreboding that lasted the entire book. I could picture girls like this in school and like my classmates, I didn’t know what happened at their houses when I wasn’t there.

Lux was my favorite character. I think we knew more about her than any of the other sisters. Her promiscuity made her more of a focus for many of the boys and it seemed fitting that her story occupied a large part of the story. She seemed really lost and confused and I could see why she acted the way she did. She seemed to want to be different after her sister’s death and didn’t know how to do that. I’m sure the other girls had a way of coping, but it wasn’t as obvious to the boys or as worthy of gossip.

It’s hard to say I related to the characters but I did on some level. I’ve felt like my parents were too strict or like life was too hard or that I had no one to reach out to. There were many times I felt like someone who knew me at school would have no idea what I was thinking about or what happened in my head or my house. I think we’re often surprised when we hear about the details of someone else’s home and the lives they have. When we’re young, we assume all other homes are like ours and I remember how shocked I was when I found out that wasn’t true.

Jeffrey Eugenides
Image via Harvard

After the initial suicide, I was in utter suspense. I thought they were going to come one after another, one per chapter, until the end of the book. I won’t give anything away here, but the suspense Eugenides created and the mystery surrounding the Lisbon home was amazing and kept me up a few late nights trying to see what would happen next.

There wasn’t a part of this book I particularly disliked. I think it showed how different people deal with grief and how we don’t know what’s going on in a person’s life, even when they live down the street. We can guess and we can try to intervene, but nothing is guaranteed to work. Everyone’s life is different and we may not ever understand why. I thought Eugenides approached this in a really good way. There’s never a solid answer for why the tragedy happened and the way he leaves it still feels like good closure to the Lisbon story.

There’s a lot we don’t know about other people. The boys in the neighborhood didn’t know what it was like to be a woman in the Lisbon household. They didn’t know how the girls interacted or how their parents treated them. They didn’t know the health of the girls or what they wanted in life. They knew a little about their likes and dislikes and the clothing they wore and the people they saw, but that was it. When they go to Homecoming, it’s the most the boys interact with the girls in the entire book. We never know about someone’s life or inner struggle and it’s impossible to guess.

Writer’s Takeaway: The suspense in this book was thrilling and I really enjoyed it. Knowing how it would end and waiting and waiting to see why it happened was really suspenseful and kept me turning pages and reading. I don’t think this format works for all books, but I can see how it works for some and is wonderfully effective in keeping a reader engaged.

A great book and the perfect one to get me out of a reading slump. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts: 
A Postmodern Adolescence: “The Virgin Suicides,” by Jeffrey Eugenides | almostauthorblog 
Review – The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides | Love, Literature, Art, and Reason 
The Virgin Suicides | Flowers Between Pages 
‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides | The Afterword 

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