#62 A Review of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Years ago I had seen Sophia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides and fell in love with the oddness of it.  How unusual of a story that follows the dreary lives of five sisters, who all eventually commit suicide?  When I found out the film was based on a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides it was immediately added to my to-read list.  When Adam over at Roof Beam Reader created the TBR Pile Challenge I knew I had to sign up, and make this one of my choices.

Set in Michigan in the early 1970’s, The Virgin Suicides details the lives of the five Lisbon sisters.  Ranging in age from 13 to late teens, the sisters were raised in a rigid household that aimed to conform to all the social norms heaped upon a suburban family in that era.  The story is not told from their perspective, but rather from a retrospective look back through the eyes of a local boys who admired the sisters from afar. Told as a dark and uniquely complex coming-of-age tale, Eugenides book details the downward spiral of the sisters as they slowly become distant and disconnected after the suicide of their youngest sister, Cecilia.  After Cecilia’s death, the four sisters are pulled from school by their father in the belief that it will help them recover from what they have undergone.  Instead, the sisters become objects of intense fascination by the narrators and others in the town.  Their ultimate suicides are the culmination of immense pressure and speculation about what is happening to the girls, and their violent end is a fitting conclusion to this dark and interesting tale.

The best way to describe this novel is that it’s 100% a character driven drama, that tries to delve into the psyche of the Lisbon girls and the boys that loved them from afar.  I REALLY wanted to love this novel, but when I was reading it, it felt like I was going around in repetitive circles that never took me anywhere.  When the novel was finished I said to myself, “ok self, there was a point to this novel, I just don’t know what.”  I know that it is trying to take a look at suburban life in the 70’s and isn’t JUST about the girls.  While the story revolves around their short lives, it also reflects on the way the town and local media dealt with their suicides, how the neighbors reacted to living next door to the family, etc.  It makes bold statements about how the world keeps moving, never slowing and never stopping to heal from grief or allow for condolences.  An interesting side storyline in the novel is how there is a strike going on at the local cemetery.  When the girls kill themselves they have to be stored somewhere until the strike ends before they can be buried.  None of the striking grave diggers feel any remorse to allow for “scabs” to enter the cemetery to bury the sisters.  It’s little tidbits of information thrown into the story like this that highlight these bold statements about society that Eugenides has written.

The social commentary of the novel, as well as Eugenides thought-provoking writing style are its saving graces.  I’d recommend the novel for its unique story but forewarn those who do read it as it is a.) depressing and b.) extremely repetitive making it a very slow read.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the TBR Pile Challenge

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Gardners Books (2002)
Paperback: 249 pages
ISBN:  9780747560593

10 thoughts on “#62 A Review of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. Great book review! From what you say: It makes bold statements about how the world keeps moving, never slowing and never stopping to heal from grief or allow for condolences. This fact is interesting and does not only reflect the 70’s. I think it as well as the strikes are pretty prevalent even nowadays!

  2. I loved the movie to bits. The sound track was amazing, too. I didn’t know it was based on a novel. Wish I had because I’d much rather read the book and then watch the movie. Totally gonna download it tomorrow. Thanks for the info!

    Emily Reese

    • Emily, the soundtrack was good! (I find that most of Sophia Coppola’s films have great soundtracks!)

      After reading the book and having seen the movie I have to say I think the movie is better! The book at time can become overly heavy with repetitive details, so the movie cuts all that out. A cleaner version of the story in my opinion.

  3. Congrats on finishing Book #1!

    ” …it felt like I was going around in repetitive circles that never took me anywhere.” I actually haven’t read this book yet, but I did watch the movie and this is how the movie made me feel, too! It was after watching the movie, actually, that I decided this book could probably wait a while. I do like Eugenides, though. Middlesex was brilliant and I really want to read The Marriage Plot. You’re right that his prose/writing style is probably his biggest strength.

    • Thanks, Adam! (It only took 6 months into the year to get through one. This doesn’t bode well for the other choices – HA!)

      One of my staff bloggers, Jess, is reading The Marriage Plot now. She had to put it down because it got too slow and repetitive for her. Hearing her say that makes me worry about trying another Eugenides novel. :-\

  4. Eugenides is certainly a long-winded loopy writer, but (unlike THE MARRIAGE PLOT), I found this novel to be ultimately fulfilling. I was completely drawn to the girls and their fishbowl life. I also appreciate your thoughtful review.

  5. Great review. The book left me with a “feeling” as opposed to an “understanding.” I still can’t figure out if that’s what it was supposed to do. I saw the movie after reading the book, and it left me feeling equally icky. I agree that it’s repetitive, but that the writing makes it worth the read.

    • Thank you! I understand completely what you mean with the “feeling” upon finishing the novel. I guess that’s a good thing when a book makes you feel something. (Even if we don’t completely know what it is we’re feeling or know why we’re feeling it) It shows the prose moved us in some way!

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