The Bookshelf, A Teen Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Courtney Bowers

It all began with one sister.

Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest and certainly oddest of the five Lisbon girls, attempted suicide in her family’s bathroom. Until that one act, the Lisbons had been viewed as the most beautiful girls in the whole town -- mysteriously flawless and completely unattainable.

A group of neighborhood boys have watched them for years, mesmerized by their perfection, but the obsession grows even stronger as one by one, the sisters delve into a deep depression, until they all, as teenagers, commit suicide. The eerie story is recounted by that same group of boys, now all middle-aged men, who recall their suburban lives in the 1970s and attempt to find a reason behind the tragedies.

The men have collected evidence, from diaries to photos, in order to thoroughly research what happened all those years ago. From these threads, a fascinating story unfolds, as the entire town comments on their memories of the Lisbon girls.

The author tells us of 13-year-old Cecilia, devoted to studying saints and mystical worlds; of 14-year-old Lux, wild and promiscuous, desperate to escape the sadness that infiltrated her life. We learn of 15-year-old Bonnie, shy and afraid; of 16-year-old Mary, poised, vain, yet insecure; and of 17-year-old Therese, smart, focused and destined for success.

We discover their mother, the controlling dictator of the house, who smothers the girls with the rules and locks them inside their home. Their father, a teacher at the local high school, is kind but lost in the mess of his family’s lives. The narrators, filled themselves with all angst of teenage boys, watch from treehouses and nearby windows, desperate to know more about the girls.

Each day, the girls progressively grow worse, transforming from normal teenagers to despairing ghosts of who they once were. Aware of the boys’ obsession with them, they reach out, taking advantage of their naivety in an attempt to find romance before their demise.

Because the reader knows from the beginning of the novel that the girls will all eventually die, it becomes obvious that they never intend to remain in this world. “The Virgin Suicides” is a brilliantly written, grief-filled tale, shadowed by dark secrets and ominous behavior, but lightened by the strange humor of the immaturity of the narrators, who can never grasp hold of the true feelings of the Lisbon girls. Twenty years later, the men are still so caught up in their infatuation with the sisters that they cannot move on with their lives, spending their days trying to piece together a puzzle of the bizarre human mind that will never be solved.

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