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The Virgin Suicides (1993)

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,871217432 (3.79)1 / 349
The five Lisbon sisters are brought up in a strict household, and when the youngest kills herself, the oppression of the remaining sisters intensifies. As Therese, Mary, Bonnie and Lux are pulled deeper into isolation by their domineering mother, a group of neighborhood boys become obsessed with liberating the sisters. But what the boys don't know is, the Lisbon girls are beyond saving.… (more)
  1. 82
    Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (bookmomo)
    bookmomo: share the same exquisite sense of setting: boring, but not terrible suburban America, second half of last century.
  2. 50
    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (readerbabe1984, rosylibrarian)
  3. 20
    A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne (si)
  4. 20
    White Oleander by Janet Fitch (rosylibrarian)
  5. 10
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: Virgin Suicides is pretty heavy going however there are quite a few films about teenage angst they might work. Some are darker than others and some are quite old but they could work with Perks... Breakfast Club, Heathers, Girl Interrupted, Rebel without a cause, Footloose, The Year my Voice Broke, Donnie Darko, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.… (more)
  6. 10
    See How Small by Scott Blackwood (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  7. 10
    Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote (weener)
    weener: Both books with a srong sense of setting, with a sense of foreboding and decay.
  8. 00
    Whores on the Hill: A Novel by Colleen Curran (jbarry)
  9. 00
    Paint It Black by Janet Fitch (jbarry)
  10. 00
    Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy (freddlerabbit)
    freddlerabbit: The styles and narrative perspectives of these two books remind me strongly of one another.
  11. 00
    The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  12. 00
    Practical Jean by Trevor Cole (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  13. 00
    Quiet Chaos by Sandro Veronesi (bookmomo)
    bookmomo: Both original and intriguing stories about loss and grieving.
  14. 12
    We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates (ainsleytewce)
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English (199)  Dutch (5)  German (3)  Italian (3)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (213)
Showing 1-5 of 199 (next | show all)
“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.”

“We couldn't imagine the emptiness of a creature who put a razor to her wrists and opened her veins, the emptiness and the calm.”

The Lisbon family consists of both parents and five teenage daughters. The girls have led a sheltered life, being reined in by a strong-willed bible-thumping mother. One fateful night, the daughters are allowed to have a chaperoned party, at their home. In a shocking turn, the youngest commits suicide and over that summer the rest follow suit. The story is told in a collective voice, representing the neighbor boys, who are infatuated with the girls and have followed their every move.
Of course, this impressive, challenging debut novel, takes getting used to and I can understand why so many readers have been completely turned off by it. Fortunately, I began to lock into it's dark, disturbing groove and was dazzled by his introspective prose and inventive style. Lots to chew on here and I am not sure a single reading, can digest it all.

**I also followed up, by watching the film version, directed by Sophia Coppola, which is very faithful to the novel but suffers from being a bit chilly and aloof. If you like the book, I still recommend seeing it. ( )
1 vote msf59 | Jul 27, 2020 |
I love this book. I could reread this book forever. He's such an amazing author. I love all his books :)
  smooody106 | Jul 7, 2020 |
Normally, I finish the books I start, especially when, like this one, they are well written and well narrated.

I made it half way through this put book and put it away in disgust. I didn't want any more of it in my head.

This isn't because I felt too emotionally distraught by experiencing a novel that centres around the death by suicide of five young sisters. There is no empathy for those women in this novel. The young women here are displayed as curiosities, barely distinguishable from one another, alien to the boy/man describing them, important because of the impact they have on the boys who observe them rather than because of any intrinsic worth. They are the thunderstorm the boys stand in. How the boys felt in the rain is what Jeffrey Eugenides is concerned with, not what it means to be a storm.

The book is set in an American White Middle Class suburb in the 1950's and is told, twenty years after the fact, by a man who was a boy at the time of the suicides and who is still sufficiently obsessed by the events to be investigating them, not so much, it seems, to unravel a mystery as to revive the taste of it in his mouth.

Eugenides writes well. This does not endear his novel to me because he chooses to deploy his skill not to write an elegy that gives meaning to the suicides of the young women, but to write an almost masturbatory reminiscence of what it felt like to be a white boy with no first-hand knowledge of girls, lusting and longing for the Lisbon Sisters, without actually being able to see them as people.

The era itself, including its racism and its sexual repression, is presented with unquestioning love. There seems to be more regret in the author's mind for the loss of a time when nice families raked leaves off their lawns in the Fall than there is for the death of any or all of the Lisbon sisters.

The adult narrator, recalling his own reactions as a boy, seems to long for a time when girls were a mystery and boys spent hours talking to each other about what it might be like to touch them.

The books seemed to me to be steeped in a repressed but deeply felt homoeroticism. The description of Trip Fontaine and his encounter with Lux Lisbon is a good example of this. Trip is described with a tenderness and admiration, bordering on love, both as a beautiful youth and as a middle-aged man, wrecked by drug use. Lux, in her short, frenzied, assault on Trip, is presented as a threat, an unleashed animal, something alien and dangerous and far from human.

The longer I listened to this well written, well narrated book, the more I was repulsed by its nostalgia for ignorance and its voyeuristic delight in treating women as an alien, not quite human, species.

Like all good story tellers, Eugenides is a skilled manipulator. He uses the passive, unquestioning, but articulate romanticism of the narrator to lull the reader into an uncritical assessment of this world and the people in it. He dresses his book with literary allusions, from character names that are amusingly descriptive, through selected quotations from poetry, to a stylistic nod at Steinbeck, and he sets this all back far enough in time that the use of tinted lenses to view the world is seen as appropriate.

Unfortunately, I am repelled by this particular manipulation. It is at best hollow and uncritical and at worst sets out to eulogize a male view of the world that I despise.

O.K., so he's a Pulitzer Prize winner. That wasn't my decision. Putting his book away halfway through was. Life is too short to spend on well expressed ideas that curdle the soul.

( )
1 vote MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
As a demonstration of literary craft,"The Virgin Suicides" succeeds like few other books. The prose that Eugenides uses to create his doomy, nostalgic vision of seventies-era suburban Detroit is just about note-perfect. His prose is sensual and hormone-infused -- the stuff of the teenage experience -- but also achingly sad and afflicted with a nameless ambient fear. The novel's also interesting from a technical perspective: it's written in sort of an informal first-person plural, in sort of collective teenage voice. This isn't merely a grammatical stunt: the sheer quantity of names mentioned effectively recalls that period of teenage sociaization in which friend groups can be both large and intimate and in which rumor and information and rumor are essentially common property. At the same time, the narrative elements set in the present -- which involve a meticulous, legalistic examination of the physical evidence left behind by the Lisbon sisters, recalls a true crime documentary, a genre that really hadn't come into its own at the time that the book was written.

You could also argue that "The Virgin Suicides" is an indictment of spiritually stultifying suburban life: the book suggests that the Lisbon sisters might have been driven to their deaths by sheer boredom. Because both the Lisbon sisters and the boys who reminisce about them seem excruciatingly aware of the strict confines of their white, wealthy, culturally conservative neighborhood, you could argue that it's a case study in the way that class and race limit and impoverish experience. You could argue that it's a demonstration of how the idealization of young women essentially silences them; the narrators were fascinated with these five girls, but also admit that they didn't really know them. "The Virgin Suicides" is one of those complex, well-constructed books that easily lend themselves to multiple interpretations. Honestly, if this one has a flaw, it's that the author spells all of this out a bit too clearly in the books final pages, when a number of his characters speculate openly about why the Lisbon sisters might have killed themselves. While other reviewers might dispute this, I'd argue that the collective narrator of "The Virgin Suicides" is unusually reflective and quite aware that the narrative they constructed around the Lisbon sisters might have contributed to their problems. Most books as unashamedly lyrical and finely wrought as "The Virgin Suicides" don't usually exhibit that level reflexivity. This is one skillfully constructed novel.

In the end, I suspect that whether you'll like this book will depend on how much attention you think a story like this deserves. Readers with an allergy to nostalgia or sentimentality may feel that Eugenides is simply investing too much in material that doesn't really stand up to this sort of scrutiny. This is, after all, a novel whose most poignant scene involves teenagers playing soft-rock ballads to each other over the phone. It seems inevitable that some people will take "The Virgin Suicides" as a pretty but insubstantial exercise in sugary bathos. And they might not be wrong: America's absolutely obsessed with pretty dead teenagers these days, after all, and maybe it always was. But alongside this somewhat familiar story, we also get glimpses of the problems and the loneliness that our narrators encountered after they grew out of their neighborhood and tried to make their lives in an America that changed radically -- and perhaps not for the better -- after the Lisbon girls took their leave of them in the mid-seventies. "The Virgin Suicides" isn't just a novel about the Lisbon sisters; it's also a novel about what happens to you after a near-idyllic adolescence leaves you unprepared for what might come next. This is something that both the Lisbon sisters and the narrators have in common, and Eugenides seems to be suggesting that the young women at the center of this book just saw it first. Recommended. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Feb 25, 2020 |
“At some point, we looked up into the sky to see that all the fish flies had died. The air was no longer brown but blue. Using kitchen brooms, we swept bugs from poles and windows and electrical lines. We stuffed them into bags, thousands upon thousands of insect bodies with wings of raw silk, and Tim Winer, the brain, pointed out how the fish flies’ tails resembled those of lobsters. “They’re smaller,” he said, “but possess the same basic design. Lobsters are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, same as insects. They’re bugs. And bugs are only lobsters that have learned to fly.”

No one ever understood what got into us that year, or why we hated so intensely the crust of dead bugs over our lives. Suddenly, however, we couldn’t bear the fish flies carpeting our swimming pools, filling our mailboxes, blotting out stars on our flags. The collective action of digging the trench led to cooperative sweeping, bag-carting, patio-hosing. A score of brooms kept time in all directions as the pale ghosts of fish flies dropped from walls like ash. We examined their tiny wizards’ faces, rubbing them between our fingers until they gave off the scent of carp. We tried to light them but they wouldn’t burn (which made the fish flies seem deader than anything). We hit bushes, beat rugs, turned on windshield wipers full blast. Fish flies clogged sewer grates so that we had to stuff them down with sticks. Crouching over sewers, we could hear the river under the city flowing away. We dropped rocks and listened for the splash.

We didn’t stop with our own houses. Once our walls were clean, Mr. Buell told Chase to start cleaning bugs off the Lisbon house. Because of his religious beliefs, Mr. Buell often went the extra mile, raking ten feet into the Hessens’ yard, or shoveling their walk and even throwing down rock salt. It wasn’t odd for him to tell Chase to start sweeping the Lisbons’ house, even though they lived across the street and not next door. Because Mr. Lisbon only had daughters, boys and men had gone over in the past to help him drag away lightning-struck limbs, and as Chase approached, holding his broom over his head like a regimental banner, nobody said a word. Then, however, Mr. Krieger told Kyle to go over and sweep some, and Mr. Hutch sent Ralph, and soon we were all over at the Lisbon house, brushing walls and scraping away bug husks. They had even more than we did, the walls an inch thick, and Paul Baldino asked us the riddle, “What smells like fish, is fun to eat, but isn’t fish?”” ( )
  proteaprince | Dec 18, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 199 (next | show all)
Mr. Eugenides is blessed with the storyteller's most magical gift, the ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary.
added by stephmo | editNew York Times, Suzanne Berne (Apr 25, 1993)
 
Adopting a tone simultaneously elegiac and loony, The Virgin Suicides takes the dark stuff of Greek tragedy and reworks it into an eccentric, mesmerizing, frequently hilarious American fantasy about the tyranny of unrequited love, and the unknowable heart of every family on earth — but especially the family next door.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eugenides, Jeffreyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Landrum, NickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide -- it was Mary this time, and the sleeping pills, like Therese -- the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.
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Obviously, Doctor… you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.
They knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all.
The girls were right in choosing to love Trip, because he was the only boy who could keep his mouth shut.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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