10/15/14

Book Review: The Virgin Suicides




THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
Jeffrey Eugenides, 1993

Virgin suicide
What was that she cried?
No use in stayin'
On this holocaust ride
She gave me her cherry
She's my virgin suicide

The Virgin Suicides tackles the dilemma of angst-ridden adolescence, the downsides of being a girl, teenage sexuality, the anguish of yearning, and — of course — the complexity of suicide.

Set in '70s Michigan, The Virgin Suicides revolves around the Lisbon sisters, the sheltered daughters of a devout Catholic couple. The Lisbon girls become the center of intrigue and timeless fascination in an upper middle-class Grosse Pointe suburb, their tragedy haunting their neighbors through the years.

Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest, becomes the catalyst of her sisters' gradual descent into despondence. A tripster named Trip Fontaine also plays a key role in aggravating the sisters' fragility when he pursues the second youngest, Lux.

Mr. Eugenides uses the first-person plural narrative. Through an unnamed narrator reminiscing the not-so-happy past, we get to know the lives of the Lisbon girls. The narrator represents the boys who have encountered the Lisbon girls more than once, but usually gazing at them from afar, like a stalker or something — which is quite creepy but it's not. They're kinda like Dill and the Finch siblings in To Kill a Mockingbird, incessantly feeding their curiosity over their quasi-hermit neighbors.

Mr. Eugenides portrays the boys as hopeless romantics, tender creatures who want to save the girls but can't. They refer to their Lisbon souvenirs as "evidences," implicitly referring to the suicides as a crime in which the girls are the victims they weren't able to save.

The Virgin Suicides' themes are universal, it's just that the author grew up in that era, near that city. The Grosse Pointe suburb is a comfortable setting, almost uneventful. That's why the Lisbons' tragedies seem spectacular.

The novel's title has a multilayered meaning in it. Why “The Virgin Suicides?” It's because the Lisbon girls are innocent, they exist in a confined place where they are deprived of the outside world. The title can also refer to boys' lost innocence; through the Lisbon girls' suicides, the boys learn the painful lessons of life.

Much of the characters are scrutinized here than in Sofia Coppola's film. My most fave is Cecilia Lisbon, the eccentric sister.

13 year-old Cecilia is the youngest. Ceel — as Lux calls her — is the mysterious Lisbon sister. She escapes her parents' strict upbringing by writing on her journal and creating some poetry. She likes Celtic music, most likely because that kind of music exudes the feeling of being one with nature, which Cecilia empathizes with. She bites her fingernails, anxiety maybe?

Cecilia's name means "blind," which is what the narrator calls her and her sisters. Cecilia is kinda like Emily Brontë, stoic and all.

Our own knowledge of Cecilia kept growing after her death, too, with the same unnatural persistence. Though she had spoken only rarely and had had no real friends, everybody possessed his own vivid memories of Cecilia... A few of us had fallen in love with her, but had kept it to ourselves, knowing that she was the weird sister.

The novel is more depressing than Miss Coppola's film. That's the beauty of a book. You are not just an onlooker who feels, instead you are the creator of your feelings. With books, you direct your own film without the pressure of the producers and the possible backlash of critics.

The Virgin Suicides starts with a bittersweet tone, finally segueing to bitterness. If this novel is a person, I'd probably have this inexplicable infatuation towards it, just like what the boys felt for the Lisbon girls. Mr. Eugenides contemplatively weaves dark comedy with tragedy. He knows how to inject poetry into his prose.

They had killed themselves over our dying forests, over manatees maimed by propellers as they surfaced to drink from garden hoses; they had killed themselves at the sight of used tires stacked higher than the pyramids; they had killed themselves over the failure to find a love none of us could ever be. 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.

I would love to read more of Mr. Eugenides' works, especially Middlesex since I've heard a lot of good things about that novel.

The Virgin Suicides is a harrowing meditation of lost innocence, somehow echoing the cynicism of Miss Sylvia Plath's works. The Virgin Suicides is a truly impressive debut novel from one of the word wizards of American literature.

In the end we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn't name.


DISCLAIMER: No copyright infringement intended. I don't own or claim to own any of the photos used.

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