{Book Review} The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin SuicidesThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book tackles how memory fails us and the subjectivity of human perception in a move reminiscent of the Japanese story In A Grove. It also delves deep into a boyish obsession that grew and lasted and continued for the rest of the numerous narrator’s lifetimes. This obsession, however, proved useless to help the mysterious Lisbon girls during their life as the narrators were content to be onlookers. Maybe not ‘content’ is not the word to be used in the strictest sense, but they certainly never did anything to outwarldly help; instead just spied, observed, and wanked over the girls. The book paints a real life portrait of suburban America for the lives of children growing up to parents who’ve served in the war, amidst growing capitalization and the loss of things that bind a community together.

The book is very easy to read, the words flowing and pulling you in that decade and setting. The narrators even break the fourth wall and address you, the reader, at one point (“Please don’t touch. We’re going to put the picture back in its envelope now.”). The narrators claim they have 97 exhibits, remnants from the Lisbon girls, salvaged and stolen, but only show about 20 in total. The narrators reconstruct the story of the Lisbon girls through their own memory and through interviews with their neighbors–however, most of the neighbors’ accounts are at par with the boys’ exhibits or their own recollections. It isn’t stated how many of the narrators are talking to the reader, nor how many of them are in love with the Lisbon girls but the number is definitely more than the four/five girls. The night the girls invited the narrators to their house, there were around eight boys or more–a fact you can easily see by counting the names from the passages following (Tom F., Chase, Peter, Buzz, Kevin, Joe, Tom B., Eugie, narrator).

Why the beautiful Lisbon girls commit suicide is never fully answered, the same way a real suicide leaves no one still living with answers or closure. The narrators heavily imply that Mrs. Lisbon was a big factor and repetitively show and state that she is a strict and overbearing mother. They sympathize with Mr. Lisbon who “couldn’t control his family life”. The book has very sexist undertones in regards to family, something I gather was very much true for that time.

To the narrators, the Lisbon girls are beautiful, mysterious entities, stars of their fantasies, while a close reader will see that the girls are alienated from the community they live in. A couple of the girls have a couple of friends, but each do not belong to a group, neither are they in friendly terms with everyone else. Also, the narrators never see the girls as individuals, as people in and of themselves. In the scene where the girls are allowed to attend a school dance, Therese, the eldest Lisbon sister, rightly assumes that “they’re just going to raffle us of”, pertaining to which boy would take them (since they were only going as a condition of Lux’s dating the school hearthrob). Later on, the narrators mistakenly believe that the girls are in love with them as well–them as a group, the girls as a collective. It didn’t matter which girl each person got or if they would share the girls between all of them (and based on what the narrators forced another boy to do and what they did to him early on, I wouldn’t be surprised).

More passages show how the Lisbon family were ostracized in the community, from their school lives (“None of the other children were speaking to the girls.”, a passage was mentioned where the narrators noted that kids were sitting next to them on the bus again) even down to their home. We witness the first phone call the boys make to the Lisbons, wherein Mr. Lisbon picks up (“What’s it going to be today? I’m waiting. Today I’ll listen to all your crap. Look, leave us alone, will you?” and a hysterical Mrs. Lisbon asks, “Why won’t you leave us alone?”), cluing the readers that someone is continuously bothering the Lisbons. The narrators take no heed of that, however, and wait hopefully until the Lisbon girls pick-up.

The boys imaginations also take wild turns. They accuse a doctor of falling in love with fourteen year old Lux, “that he was estimating in his head how much money he had in the bank, how much gas in the car, how far they could get before his wife and kids find out…”, which is a bit much for even their sexually repressed fantasies.

The narrators were obsessed with the girls from a distance–heavily blurring the line between boyish fantasies and fetish perversion (“We could imagine what the girls felt inside because we knew what they were eating. We could share their headaches from wolfing down ice cream…” , “an old thermometer (oral, alas)”). Another show of this quality happens in the Lisbons’ house, where Lux touches one of the boys and the rest watch and “live vicariously” through the experience (“even though she as doing it to Chase Buell, we could all feel Lux undoing us, reaching out for us and taking us”).

The Lisbon girls’ suicides become much sensationalized and brings us back full circle to human perception. In a community where the girls were real people, even those who have interacted with them start believing whatever the media reported about the girls–their personalities, their likes and dislikes, even if if these are untrue. At the end, no matter how much the boys believe they “love” the Lisbon girls and how they still wish to know the truths behind their suicides, it should be noted that for all their “love”, not one of them (to be more precise, no one in town even) attends the Lisbon girls’ funeral, thus furthering highlighting their stalker-like obsession with the four mysterious girls.

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