Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
“The truth was this: we were beginning to forget the Lisbon girls, and we could remember nothing else.”
I read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides a few years ago and thought it was okay, but I knew that one day I would want to read The Virgin Suicides. I picked it up at our library book sale a few months ago and have been saving it for one of my fall reads. The book follows several neighborhood boys as the collective narrator who are obsessed with the five Lisbon sisters, Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia, who within one year, all commit suicide. The book begins with Cecilia’s first attempt at suicide and continues on until after the others die.
The Virgin Suicides is not at all plot-heavy; in fact, if you read the back of the book, you already know that all the sisters die. But the point is more of a character study, less so on the Lisbon sisters (since the neighborhood boys hardly actually talk to them), but more about the neighborhood boys. There was always some mystery and mystique surrounding the Lisbon sisters, but as soon as Cecilia attempted suicide the first time by cutting her wrists, the Lisbons became a sort of legend among the neighborhood boys. Then only three weeks later, Cecilia was successful in her second suicide attempt. Once Cecilia was gone, the four remaining sisters isolated themselves from friends, and Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon became much more strict.
The Virgin Suicides is not a technically appropriate name considering Lux was not a virgin, but the title comes from a song, “Virgin Suicide” by Cruel Crux, one of the rock albums that Mrs. Lisbon made Lux burn after her escapades. Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon were always strict with their daughters, but after Cecilia, they became even more severe with the house rules. The girls were never allowed to date, but any male interaction was shut down. Eventually, the girls were pulled out of school. I understand why the Lisbons became more controlling, but in their grief, it seems cruel to completely cut the girls off from the outside world.
Now that I have read the book, I am anxious to see the Sofia Coppola movie with Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon. Sofia Coppola has such a distinct style that I’m curious to see how well it matches Eugenides’ distinct atmosphere. I am a huge fan of atmospheric novels (ahem, The Secret History), and I think that’s part of why I enjoyed The Virgin Suicides so much. It was a perfect read for the fall; the creepy, intense vibe of the neighborhood boys seems appropriate for cooler weather. While the boys were obsessed with the Lisbons, for whatever reason, it never seemed too stalker-ish. It is understandable that a family of five pretty sisters would be intriguing, then when one of the sisters (only thirteen at the time) commits suicide, the interest only increases.
The Virgin Suicides is Eugenides’ debut novel, and while I enjoyed it more than The Marriage Plot, I think his writing has only improved. I also picked up Middlesex at the same library sale, so at some point, I will give that a try. If you are looking for a great atmospheric novel for the fall, definitely pick up The Virgin Suicides. I give it 4 stars.
What are some of your favorite atmospheric novels?