Last night I finished book #36 which was a really quick read, and also really good. I read The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, who apparently won a Pulitzer for a book he wrote later, Middlesex, so I want to read that one now, too.
Anyway, I really, really liked The Virgin Suicides. It closely followed the course of one year in which one family, the Lisbons, lost all of their five daughters to suicide. The novel jumps right into the violent first attempt, made by the youngest daughter, Cecelia, who was only 13.
My favorite part of this book, besides the gripping mystery and the beautiful prose, was the narration. Eugenides uses one unnamed boy who seemed to grow up at his friend Chase Buell’s house, who lived across the street from the Lisbons. He’s telling the story from many years after the suicide incidents, but with all the reverent detail of someone who has relived that year constantly since it occurred.
There are a lot of references to exhibits, seemingly evidence in the case of the Lisbon girls, which made me wonder if maybe this boy had gone on to become a detective or a cop or something, and was making a case.
But then, suicides don’t really require a case, so it becomes clear that this narrator and his friends have created this exhibit, complete with 97 various items, to help satisfy their unfulfilled obsession with these girls.
But this style of narration was really cool, I thought, because this boy starts the story off with his own familiarity (from a distance) with these five daughters. So you find out that he, his friends, everyone had been obsessed with watching the girls grow up. They had been beautiful, but it also seemed to have something to do with their restrictiveness.
The five Lisbon girls were all a year apart, ranging from 13 – 17. Their mother and father had strict rules against everything, from makeup to dates to rock’n’roll records. Five beautiful, blossoming, inaccessible girls predictably drew attention.
One of the huge themes of this book was girlhood, and budding womanhood, and all of that. Normally, I think it would be hard for a male author to write well about this sort of thing, but because Eugenides did it from the perspective of an adolescent boy who’d spent his entire life watching and “falling in love” with these girls from across the street, it worked.
Another theme was the whole boredom-pretending-to-be-happy-and-satisfied-in-the-suburbs, which gave it a really great The Bell Jar meets Revolutionary Road feel. There were brief snippets from the neighbors, and their thinly veiled scorn at the Lisbons’ failing to keep the house from falling into disarray after the first suicide of their 13-year-old daughter.
Ultimately, it was a really cool book that made me realize that neither I, nor this narrator nor his friends nor anyone on their block or at their school, would never solve the profound sadness of these five, sheltered young women. Ah. It was very good and very bleak, and I would recommend this book to everyone. ◊
We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together.”
– page 40
In the end, the tortures tearing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws.”
– page 239