Years ago I had seen Sophia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides and fell in love with the oddness of it. How unusual of a story that follows the dreary lives of five sisters, who all eventually commit suicide? When I found out the film was based on a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides it was immediately added to my to-read list. When Adam over at Roof Beam Reader created the TBR Pile Challenge I knew I had to sign up, and make this one of my choices.
Set in Michigan in the early 1970’s, The Virgin Suicides details the lives of the five Lisbon sisters. Ranging in age from 13 to late teens, the sisters were raised in a rigid household that aimed to conform to all the social norms heaped upon a suburban family in that era. The story is not told from their perspective, but rather from a retrospective look back through the eyes of a local boys who admired the sisters from afar. Told as a dark and uniquely complex coming-of-age tale, Eugenides book details the downward spiral of the sisters as they slowly become distant and disconnected after the suicide of their youngest sister, Cecilia. After Cecilia’s death, the four sisters are pulled from school by their father in the belief that it will help them recover from what they have undergone. Instead, the sisters become objects of intense fascination by the narrators and others in the town. Their ultimate suicides are the culmination of immense pressure and speculation about what is happening to the girls, and their violent end is a fitting conclusion to this dark and interesting tale.
The best way to describe this novel is that it’s 100% a character driven drama, that tries to delve into the psyche of the Lisbon girls and the boys that loved them from afar. I REALLY wanted to love this novel, but when I was reading it, it felt like I was going around in repetitive circles that never took me anywhere. When the novel was finished I said to myself, “ok self, there was a point to this novel, I just don’t know what.” I know that it is trying to take a look at suburban life in the 70’s and isn’t JUST about the girls. While the story revolves around their short lives, it also reflects on the way the town and local media dealt with their suicides, how the neighbors reacted to living next door to the family, etc. It makes bold statements about how the world keeps moving, never slowing and never stopping to heal from grief or allow for condolences. An interesting side storyline in the novel is how there is a strike going on at the local cemetery. When the girls kill themselves they have to be stored somewhere until the strike ends before they can be buried. None of the striking grave diggers feel any remorse to allow for “scabs” to enter the cemetery to bury the sisters. It’s little tidbits of information thrown into the story like this that highlight these bold statements about society that Eugenides has written.
The social commentary of the novel, as well as Eugenides thought-provoking writing style are its saving graces. I’d recommend the novel for its unique story but forewarn those who do read it as it is a.) depressing and b.) extremely repetitive making it a very slow read.
3 out of 5 Stars
This is my first completed review for the TBR Pile Challenge
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Gardners Books (2002)
Paperback: 249 pages