The Virgin Suicides
Introducing the Collins Modern Classics, a series featuring some of the most significant books of recent times, books that shed light on the human experience - classics which will endure for generations to come.
That girl didn't want to die. She just wanted out of that house. She wanted out…
Why read it?
6 authors picked The Virgin Suicides as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
I’d normally abstain from the pompous sin of quoting one’s own fiction, but I’m doing it here only to contextualize this recommendation.
“Adolescence is an exercise in coveting what exists just beyond our grasp,” my book’s narrator tells us in his preamble to his telling of Foster’s story. “It is this inaccessibility that sustains its magic.” To be fifteen is to be a voyeur looking wistfully in on the poignancy of others’ lives: this is the idea I tried to operationalize through the narrator’s project, with full knowledge that I’d never do it as lyrically as The Virgin Suicides.
I opened the book with trepidation – we all know someone who has done the act. All the trite explanations of “why” sound blasphemous to me. Other novelists tackled the taboo subject of teen suicide, but Eugenides’s narrative remains oddly elegiac and timeless as a Greek tragedy. The appallingly hyperbolic story is told in third person plural – we – from the outside looking in. A chorus of nameless teenaged boys function as a collective mind, of which the reader is a part. The narrators are well-meaning but unreliable because they cannot know what the girls were thinking or feeling,…
Intensely voyeuristic, The Virgin Suicides is a novel that locks the reader deep in the minds of neighboring obsessed teenage boys. They unravel the mystery of the Lisbon household with a distance that is both far and near in a way that shows Jeffrey Eugenides’ mastery of the written word. The novel is told by the collective of boys after they’ve become men, all still unable to let go. Their childish male gaze turned adult insight into the secrets that surround both the Lisbon daughters and those close to them are haunting. Also, the prose is stunning.
Before Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for his sophomore effort, he debuted on the literary scene with one of my very favorite books, The Virgin Suicides, a dark and haunting novel about a group of five repressed teenage sisters who each commit suicide over the course of a year. In Eugenides’ subversive coming-of-age tale, he explores themes of religion, isolation, and mental illness through the collective narrative voice of the neighborhood boys who obsessed over the sisters and want to understand why they killed themselves.
This book has been on my list of all-time favorites since it was first published in 1993. The premise can be a tough sell; it’s the story of a family with five daughters, all of whom commit suicide over the course of a year. But the book’s greatest strength lies in the way the story is told: narrated by the collective voice of the neighborhood boys, who admired and wondered about the Lisbon girls from afar, the novel has one of the most unusual and compelling narrative voices of any book I know.
Adapted from his 1990 short story, Jeffrey Eugenides’ remarkable debut novel does the impossible. Relocating gothic tropes of the past in the Detroit suburbs of the 1970’s, he tells the most intimate, inventive and terrible suburban gothic tale in contemporary fiction.
Employing the funhouse lens of multiple narrators -- neighborhood boys who are voyeuristically obsessed with the five Lisbon sisters -- Eugenides invokes a deceptively nostalgic past while looking ahead to current national traumas including religion, the media, family dysfunction, and environmental disaster. Imprisoned in an ordinary-looking suburban home that is dying like the neighborhood itself, the sisters are doomed…
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