The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 21 October 2002

The Virgin Suicides

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Suicide may look obvious from time to time, but it really remains a subtle and troubling mystery, especially when the victim (perpetrator?) is just a kid with all of life to look forward to. In this dark novel, the unnamed narrator looks back after many years upon one tragic year in his childhood neighborhood. The Lisbons were a quirky family with five beautiful blonde daughters. After the youngest attempts and finally succeeds at suicide, a long, languid and mysterious year passes during which the narrator and his friends long for some connection to the surviving girls. Lux, a fourteen year old sensualist, seems to be the main figure in the tragic remaining four. Her parents, particularly her mother, become strict and controlling, desperate to protect their daughters from cultural influences on their adolescence. It is never clear whether the pressure on the girls comes from within or from without their decaying suburban house. The narrator and his friends try to connect with the trapped girls. They know more tragedy is coming. What happened to these girls is never the mystery. The mystery is why they did what they did, why their parents were the way they were, and why adolescence is so vulnerable to cultural pressures and melodrama. Eugenides tells this story as though the boys, now grown to men, are conducting an investigation into their past and into what happened to the Lisbon girls. In that sense, the author brilliantly captures the feelings of looking back into incomplete memory, and a yearning emotionalism that goes along with the drama of adolescence. On one hand, the narrator's point of view is necessarily incomplete, being younger than the girls and not really knowing them very well. On the other hand, though, the reader may feel a little too much is left out. There might not be quite enough here for the reader to fully connect with the characters. By the end, one connecting note seems missing. Then again, that is much the point of this dark story.

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