In 2012, I did a little “Read it, then watch it” post, and — of course — included The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The book is one of my favorites, which is simple and so complicated for someone who loves more and more books each year. I’ve been writing more lately, so I’ve been thinking about writing — what I want to do, what it can do for the reader, and my favorite books are always on my mind when I’m juggling those sorts of questions in my head.
The Virgin Suicides is one of those books that settled into my soul the first time I read it. I’d say I wish I would have written it, but I love the Jeffrey Eugenides did. Reading it means it appeared to me whole, without the sweat and editing and tears that belong to the writer during the creation of a novel. I will say that, one day, I hope to have something as luminous in my own catalog. I hope to have the ability to capture beauty and darkness the way Eugenides does — because that combination is the lifeblood of so many of my story ideas.
A few weeks ago, my friend Galit asked me to recommend my favorite book in a single sentence. My brain could barely process the idea, but I came up with one, and I’m thrilled to have it included in an article she wrote — find 7 more amazing book recommendations from readers.
In The Virgin Suicides, Jeffery Eugenides uses evocative, hazy prose to explore the suicides of the Lisbon sisters, outsiders who become the object of brooding, pubescent obsession, morphing into a single entity of feminine mystery.
Could you describe your favorite book in a single sentence? Humor me and try it?
Of course, I have much more to say about The Virgin Suicides, so I thought I’d re-post a review I originally shared with my friend, Katie, at Sluiter Nation.
Jeffrey Eugenides lyrically weaves the voyeuristic nature of teenage fascination with the adult yearning to make sense of tragic acts in The Virgin Suicides, his first novel.
The demise of the Lisbon sisters is never in doubt. Their deaths introduce the novel, and the reader is left to follow the narrator through the thirteen months that link the first and seventh suicide attempts of the doomed blonde girls obsessed over by a gaggle of neighborhood boys.
Narrated by an unnamed classmate of the five sisters, The Virgin Suicides probes at an idyllic, lazily complacent suburban neighborhood in the seventies, trying to brush aside the blanket of fallen autumn leaves to find the girls’ motivation, intent on ending their lives.
Fiercely sheltered by their parents, the girls are outsiders, the object of brooding, childish obsession, morphing into a single entity of feminine mystery.
As I fell into Eugenides’ lyrical prose, I searched for understanding alongside the narrator, studying the clues offered, descriptions of photographs and interviews and sparse personal memories that the adult narrator clings to in order to identify what really happened with the girls so many years before.
It’s not a surprise that the only sister to assert an identity separate from her sisters is Lux, the rebellious, promiscuous sister, smoking at school and sneaking out of her house with nameless, faceless one-night stands.
Always watching the girls from a distance, it becomes clear that the narrator has been shaped forever by his infatuation with the Lisbon girls, more affected by his ideas about them than his actual, extremely limited interaction with them.
At the end, I didn’t know much more about the sisters’ reasons for suicide than the narrator, which didn’t detract from my fierce enjoyment of the novel. The haunting prose, alone, is enough to compel me to read this book time after time.
Dark humor pervades the story, from an aside mention of a cast-iron doorstop that eventually aids one sister’s suicide to worried specialists trying to find a message from the girls in their favorite record albums. That subtle humor provides texture to the tale, distancing me from the overtly tragic nature of five girls in one family killing themselves in just over one calendar year.
The compelling power of male, teenage desire is at the heart of this story, the girls simply pawns in the fantasies of their neighbors, their death a satirically cautionary tale about believing too deeply in the first stirrings of teenage lust.