Book review: “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides

A teenage girl’s teenage years are when she first learns how depressing the world can be. The hope and wonder that comes with childhood begin to drift away as she discovers the perceptions set before her.

The Virgin Suicides, directed by Jeffrey Eugenides, tells the story of a quiet suburban Detroit neighborhood in the 1970s that is beset by an unimaginable tragedy. The focus is on the Lisbon family, which includes five sisters – Lux, Cecilia, Therese, Marie and Bonnie, their strict mother and stripping father. Within 13 months, all five sisters commit suicide.

Depending on the premise, you might think that Eugenides is delving into the minds of these girls to tell their stories, but he takes his own approach instead. This story is told from the perspective of the young neighbor boys who watch the girls at school, church, and across the street. At this point, they are all middle-aged adults with wives and children and pondering their version of what happened.

Let me start by saying that I have never felt truly frustrated, confused, and totally upset while reading a book. However, by the time I finished it, this book had changed the way I appreciated written works. I still find that it resonates with me more than anything I’ve ever read. It was so crazy and clever that I couldn’t help but think about it every day.

The cramping of the grandiose vocabulary alone made me want to throw the book across the room several times. Narration was tired. I closed my eyes when a small mention of a person or event turned into shadows that took up most of the chapter without being relevant to the story. On top of that, the author chose to include borderline random racist comments that totally put me off. Halfway through the book, my interest completely ended, but a random glance at the first chapter changed my view of what this book was all about.

This story was as much about teenage boys as it was about teenage girls. The random shadows focusing on even the most random details, the distracting and unrelated way of discussing girls and everything that pissed me off about this book was supposed to make me feel that way. The boys had no real concern or sympathy for the girls. They considered them the epitome of perfect beauty. They even find themselves disappointed when they take them to the school dance because they’ve finally talked to every girl for the first time, and it has upset their fantasies. They complained about how close and individual the girls were.

Their parents also saw them incorrectly. Their father did not know how to interact with the girls and saw them as strangers. Their mother was controlling and bossy with strict restrictions on TV, after-school time, clothing, and just about anything that could give the girls the slightest sense of happiness and freedom. Any reaction from the girls is met with unreasonable punishment, including the removal of the five girls from school after Lux returns late from a dance.

In every aspect of the Lisbon girls’ lives, they are seen as something to be controlled or admired, yet ignored. This is what makes this book a reflective masterpiece. Eugenides perfectly captured each combination of characters. Girls want the space to be themselves and at least learn who they are in the first place. Boys are immature and self-serving. They view girls as perfect and see themselves as “nice boys” that girls should like, but they make no effort to interact with them. Even in adulthood, they claim to have been and remain in love with them. Their parents endorse the idea that being physically present, teaching obedience, and providing for basic human needs are the things parenting has to go for. Anyone can pick up this book and find out they’ve played at least one of these characters, even if it’s hard to swallow. It captures the incredible complexities in the midst of mundane life.

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