Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Genre: Fiction, modern classic
Five seemingly normal and beautiful sisters—the Lisbon sisters—are watched and admired by a group of boys from across the road. These boys are married now and the story begins as they narrate an unforgettable experience of watching and admiring those five girls merely as teenagers. As young boys, the boys try to speculate and understand the five girls from afar, only to witness the Lisbon sisters take their own lives within the timespan of a year.
For me, the read felt morbid, yet intriguing and unique. Eugenides’s writing invokes a sense of comfort in reading a story completely opposite. The story begins with Cecilia, the youngest of the Lisbon girls, who is “afloat in her pink pool”. At just thirteen years of age, Cecilia is one of the most depressing characters in the book. Her entry into the story is not comforting but Eugenides writes it so well. Literally and figuratively—the pink pool—does not instill a buoyant (excuse the pun) characterization of the girl. She is merely thirteen years old for crying out loud! In spite of this, I think Cecilia is a character with whom we can resonate, especially at that time when we hear her friend evince Cecilia’s infatuated tendencies due to a boy. Don’t tell me you didn’t learn a foreign language for someone else when you were thirteen.
Amy Schraff, who knew Cecilia in school, said that Dominic had been all she could talk about for the final week before commencement. Instead of studying for exams, she spent study halls looking up ITALY in the encyclopedia. She started saying “Ciao,” and began slipping into St.Paul’s Catholic Church on the Lake to sprinkle her forehead with holy water.
The fact that the movie leaves us with very sparse and general clues about cause or causes of the five suicides gave me a reason to read the book. Prior to reading an online copy of the recent edition, I was thinking that this book would give me all of the answers to one of my burning questions (why?), but that is not how it turned out. Well, not quite. My answer to the big question—why?—is pretty basic, even after reading the book: we just don’t know the Lisbon girls that well. One main reason and this is my interpretation, is that the story is from the perspective of the boys; the girls have lines fewer than Ferb Fletcher.
As a reader, I believe that the lines people say tell us much more about the speaker than the subject to which he/she is referring to. And in this instance, we do not get to comprehend much about the girls because they do not get any lines. We are as disconnected from the girls as the narrators are. Unlike the sisters, minute characters in the story, like Mrs. Buell, for example, who remarks (about Cecilia), have more lines “That girl did not want to die. She just wanted out of that house.” While Mrs. Buell can be seen as the knowledgeable neighbour of the Lisbons, the Lisbon sisters do not seem quite as likely to be knowledgeable about Mrs. Buell, even if they ever were because of the fact that the girls never utter a sentence with more than two punctuation marks. This and possibly other reasons are why we do not know the Lisbon sisters enough to answer the ‘why’ question with a definite conclusion. Of course, we can assume they know their neighbours but did they really? Why were they spending so much time among themselves? Why weren’t they friends with other people at their school?
An applause-worthy thing about the book is that the story propels the audience to talk about the profoundness of teen suicide and its aftermath in real life. The narrators of this book talk not only about the girls but also about the house, the weather, the community, the state, also the country in terms of suicide. It is an important topic but it is as stigmatized as it is significant and dangerous. The book does a good job of making the audience realize that the effects of suicide on any family or household are profound.
Another excellent aspect of this book is the author’s writing and style. Eugenides’s writing is very poetic, articulate, and unique. Since this book is narrated by a bunch of middle-aged men, Eugenides’s writing style evokes thoughts about how young men view girls (or women) from afar. I am quite angry at him for not giving the girls more depth and lines. However, we do read even the minutest details about the Lisbon house. As much as the boys are disconnected from the girls, they have plenty of knowledge about what the girls were like, as ironic as that sounds.
Overall, the book was confusing…but enjoyable to a certain extent. I know that there will be (or already are) people who will get annoyed with this story, considering the fact that the ‘why’ part never gets answered (though there are many hypotheses in the book). But for those who are keen on reading this book, despite how the story goes, then you must be a lover of mystery. If you don’t love mystery, but can’t dismiss the critically acclaimed reviews of The Virgin Suicides or the fact that this book is (already) a modern classic, then you might as well get an online copy like I did so that you can (at least) enjoy Eugenides’s beautiful writing and the meticulous storytelling.
DISCLAIMER: ALL OPINIONS EXPRESSED AND WRITINGS INCLUDED ON “SUJANA’S JARGONS AND STORIES” ARE MY OWN UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED.
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Read my movie review of The Virgin Suicides by clicking here.