Length: 249 pp.
Amazon Summary: 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 he describes the older locals' reactions to the suicide attempts. Under the narrator's goofy, posturing banter are some hard truths: mortality is a fact of life; teenage girls are more attracted to brawn than to brains (contrary to the testimony of the narrator's male relatives). This is an auspicious debut from an imaginative and talented writer.
My Thoughts: Jeffrey Eugenides is one of those authors I've heard a lot about lately, along with Dan Brown, Naomi Novik, and others. It's taken me this long to finally pick up his two books—The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex—but on my latest trip to the library, I gave in and checked both of them out. From my experience, I've learned most people preferred Middlesex over The Virgin Suicides, so I was interested to see if I agreed with their views. At the moment, I can't very well tell, considering I only started Middlesex last night, but The Virgin Suicides is probably one of the best books I've read lately.
As most of you already know (or should already know, anyway), this book centers mainly around the five Lisbon girls during "the year of the suicides," as told from the perspective of the boys across the street that were obsessed with them while they were alive—and, actually, they still are obsessed in their own way, even twenty years after their deaths.
It sounds a bit boring, I know, but I actually found myself getting drawn into it very quickly. Out of all the sisters, my favorite had to be Lux, even though she's different from me in all the ways she can be different. I just felt attached to her, probably because she had the most "publicity," you could say, and we learned the most about her, rather than her four sisters. All of them, though, were intriguing. As I was reading, I kept wondering: Why did Cecilia commit suicide to begin with? Why didn't her sisters care as much as I thought they would? Since this book wasn't written from the sister's perspective, we never really got to know them. Instead, we only saw the quick glimpses and speculations that the narrators managed to puzzle out, instead of knowing why they did this, and why they didn't do that.
That perspective brought an interesting edge to the story. You knew what was happening, but you didn't know why it was happening. Instead of getting all the answers to the "why" questions, Eugenides made it so that you could speculate on your own, ruminate over the evidence, and come to your own conclusions. We only learned what happened, but never got any definite answers. For some people, that might be annoying, but I actually liked that. I enjoy books that allow me to come to my own conclusions on why people did what they did, so this book was very suitable for me.
I feel incredibly odd saying that, just because this book was incredibly depressing. After all, how could a book about suicide not be depressing? Everything about the book's events were so devastatingly sad, from their over-protective parents to the five suicides that occurred over the course of the year, but somehow, Eugenides made it more intriguing than sad—probably mainly because of the perspective the book was told in. The sadness seeped through, but interspersed within it were speculations and a light touch to the writing that made it very easy to read, so I didn't feel like it actually brought my mood down at all.
Eugenides truly has a gift to write, because I found it very difficult to put this book down. Everything people have said about it is true. I'm skeptical of Middlesex actually being better than this book, but I'm going to read it right after I'm done with The Da Vinci Code, so we will see. As you can tell, this book is recommended. It might not be for everyone, but everyone should at least give it a try, I think.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown