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The Virgin Suicides

A book by Jeffrey Eugenides

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  • Nov 19, 2007
If one of the five Lisbon sisters was crazy, it had to be Cecilia, the youngest. At least that's what all the neighborhood boys thought when she proved them right by killing herself during the first party that the sisters had ever been allowed to host. What none of the boys expected at the time was that just one year later all four of Cecilia's older sisters would also be dead, victims of their own bizarre suicides.

Set in 1970s Michigan, The Virgin Suicides is the tragic story of the Lisbon family, a family headed by a rigidly strict mother and a nondescript high school teacher father who produced five unexpectedly beautiful daughters. It is impossible to read this book without wondering what would drive five attractive young women to end their lives just as they were beginning. What was happening behind the closed doors of the Lisbon household that could possibly have resulted in that kind of tragedy? Jeffrey Eugenides does not provide any easy answers and, in fact, limits the reader's knowledge of the girls to those first hand observations available to their neighbors and schoolmates.

The book is narrated by one of the group of horny young boys who live on the same street as the Lisbon family. Through their collective eyes, the reader learns of the limited school activities that the girls participated in and just how little after school contact they had with their peers. These boys actively spied on the girls, hoping to catch a glimpse of them through the windows of their upstairs bedrooms, and what we learn about the girls from them is largely based on their speculation and guess work as to what is happening in that house. The boys became obsessed with the sisters and, when one of their group successfully lobbied Mr. Lisbon to be allowed to take one of his girls to the school prom, his good intentions may have directly contributed to the ultimate destruction of the family.

Readers looking for insights about depression and suicide will be disappointed by The Virgin Suicides. Eugenides has chosen instead to emphasize how something of this magnitude can happen without anyone recognizing it, or perhaps, even having the will to stop it before it is too late. Even the young men so obsessed with their every activity were unable to see what was coming. Those closest to the girls, their parents, were so caught up in the grief of having lost their youngest daughter already that they could not stop her sisters from following her example. By limiting the reader to only the facts known to the book's other characters, Eugenides forces one to speculate about what must have happened to cause the suicides in much the same way that others in the story speculate. The sad truth is that it is often impossible to understand what drives another person to take his own life.

I do wish that Eugenides had given the sisters more distinctive personalities. As it was, only Cecilia, the first to take her life, and Lux, the family risk taker, stand out at all. The other three girls are so interchangeable that even their classmates sometimes had a problem telling them apart. I realize that this "sameness" may have contributed to their final choices but, as a reader, I would have enjoyed knowing more about the girls before they were gone forever. That must be exactly how the neighbor boys felt.

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More The Virgin Suicides: A Novel reviews
review by . June 30, 2010
The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides is an amazingly insightful glimpse into a variety of different worlds and meanings. As readers you are confronted with the blossoming of suburbia, coping mechanisms, tragedy in a modern world, the exaltation of the young woman, adulthood, childhood, sociopolitical commentaries, and an interweaving of countless other narratives. Eugenides effortlessly constructs a suburban bubble in which the ideal, all-American lifestyle is lived and that tragedy …
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Horrible, don`t waste your time reading this. There is a lot of better books on the list!
Quick Tip by . July 08, 2010
Did not like this book. I am still trying to understand why I read it!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Such a beautifully written book.
review by . December 16, 2009
Not only does Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides have an intriguing title, but a movie is based on the provocative tale of the tragic- and unpredictable- suicides of five teenaged sisters in early 1970s Detroit over a period of one year. When the smoke clears, the Lisbon's are left grieving the loss of daughter Cecilia, 13, Bonnie, 15, Lux, 14, Mary, 16, and Therese, 17. The story is told from the perspective of a group of neighborhood boys, themselves trapped in the ambiguity of adolescence, as they …
review by . June 28, 2009
From 2005 (paperback) I saw this movie back in October and I didn't care for it, so I moved this book up my reading list... I'm still disturbed by the entire story and I wish we had found out a little more of the "why", but I guess that would have made it unrealistic to me, huh? I mean, do we ever know WHY someone kills themselves? Especially if we are on the outside looking in, which is what the narrators are - just school friends of the girls.    I will say this - the book …
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Sam Sattler ()
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Oil company professional of almost 40 years experience who has worked in oil-producing countries around the world. I love books, baseball and bluegrass music and hope to dedicate myself to those hobbies … more
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Eugenides's tantalizing, macabre first novel begins with a suicide, the first of the five bizarre deaths of the teenage daughters in the Lisbon family; the rest of the work, set in the author's native Michigan in the early 1970s, is a backward-looking quest as the male narrator and his nosy, horny pals describe how they strove to understand the odd clan of this first chapter, which appeared in the Paris Review , where it won the 1991 Aga Khan Prize for fiction. The sensationalism of the subject matter (based loosely on a factual account) may be off-putting to some readers, but Eugenides's voice is so fresh and compelling, his powers of observation so startling and acute, that most will be mesmerized. The title derives from a song by the fictional rock band Cruel Crux, a favorite of the Lisbon daughter Lux--who, unlike her sisters Therese, Mary, Bonnie and Cecilia, is anything but a virgin by the tale's end. Her mother forces Lux to burn the album along with others she considers dangerously provocative. Mr. Lisbon, a mild-mannered high school math teacher, is driven to resign by parents who believe his control of their children may be as deficient as his control of his own brood. Eugenides risks sounding sophomoric in his attempt to convey the immaturity of high-school boys; while initially somewhat discomfiting, the narrator's voice (representing the collective memories of the group) acquires the ring of authenticity. The author is equally convincing when ...
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Books, Fiction, Jeffrey Eugenides


ISBN-10: 0446670251
ISBN-13: 978-0446670258
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

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