J.I.'s Reviews > The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
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's review
Aug 29, 2011

bookshelves: read-2011
Read in August, 2011

Written in the third person plural, this is not a book about the Lisbon sisters. Sure, it is called The Virgin Suicides and the main action is the death of the Lisbon sisters, but it is not their story, though they dominate it. This is the story about a town trying to understand, it is the story of outsiders wanting to peek beyond, it is the story of what it means to tell a true story (and how many ways we can go wrong in doing so) and it is about how lives are fundamentally altered by events both in and out of our control.

While many have picked this book up because of its striking reviews or association with the (surprisingly awesome) movie, they often tend to not enjoy it. Why did the girls commit suicide--they leave asking. Let me tell you, reader of this review, that you will not really know why. You will have your own ideas, perhaps blaming the parents or genetics or the craziness of the individuals, but you will be engaging in exactly the kind of speculation that the plural authors are, and that the parents and news anchors were. You will try to impose a narrative on top of the already imposed narratives, and this is part of the point. If you are looking for guidance and answers, this novel will frustrate you. If, however, you seek to understand better what it means to long for answers and if you wonder how powerful the lives of others can affect us and if you want to feel that halcyon glow of childhood tragedy that is both destructive and illuminating, you are in luck.

The prose is light and evanescent; the metaphors fleeting and unusual; the questions and awe, however, linger. This is a book that is as much about the play of words as it is the twining of plot, and it makes for some truly beautiful passages. Sure, sometimes there is a turn of phrase that feels contrived, from time to time, and the passages turn occasionally from flowery to frilly; but this is the exception, rather than the rule.

This is a book that everyone should read, and while there are certainly going to be a variety of opinions (as there already are), I cannot help but feel that if you do not appreciate this novel (which is not to say that you must like it) than it is more a case that you were more intent on having questions you had formed before reading answered, than you were in trying to hear what was being said.
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