The Virgin Suicides
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (September 2014)|
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3555.U4 V57 1993|
The Virgin Suicides is the 1993 debut novel by American writer Jeffrey Eugenides. The fictional story, which is set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s, centers on the lives of five doomed sisters. The Lisbon girls fascinate their community as their neighbors struggle to find an explanation for their tragic acts. The book's first chapter appeared in The Paris Review in 1990, and won the 1991 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction.
The novel is written in first person plural from the perspective of an anonymous group of teenage boys whose lives were changed by their obsession with the Lisbons. The narrators rely on relics and interviews gathered in the two decades since the events to construct the tale. Eugenides told 3am Magazine: "I think that if my name hadn't been Eugenides, people wouldn't have called the narrator a Greek chorus".
As an ambulance arrives for the body of Cecilia Lisbon, a group of anonymous neighborhood boys recall the events leading up to her death.
The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in the suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at the local high school. The mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.
Without warning, Cecilia attempts suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. She is found in time, and she survives. A few weeks later, their parents allow the girls to throw a chaperoned party at their house in hopes of cheering Cecilia up. However, Cecilia excuses herself from the party, goes upstairs, and jumps out of her second story bedroom window. She is impaled on the fence post below, and she dies almost immediately.
The Lisbon parents begin to watch their four remaining daughters more closely, which only isolates the family from their community. Cecilia's death also heightens the air of mystery about the Lisbon sisters to the neighborhood boys, who long for more insight into the girls' lives.
When school begins in the fall, Lux begins a secret romance with local heartthrob Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to a homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three sisters. After winning homecoming king and queen, Trip persuades Lux to ditch the group to have sex on the school's football field. Afterwards, Trip becomes disenchanted with Lux and abandons her. As a result, she falls asleep and misses her curfew. In response, Mrs. Lisbon withdraws the girls from school and keeps them home as punishment. Mr. Lisbon also takes a leave of absence from his teaching job, so that the family can be together all the time.
Through the winter, Lux is seen having sex on the roof of the Lisbon residence with unknown men at night. The community watches as the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no one intervenes. After months of confinement, the sisters reach out to the boys across the street by using light signals and sending anonymous notes. The boys decide to call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls to share and express their feelings.
Finally, the girls send a message to the boys to come over at midnight, leading the boys to believe they will help the girls escape. They meet Lux, who is alone. She invites them inside and tells them to wait for her sisters while she goes to start the car. As the boys wait, they explore the house. In the basement they discover a freshly dead Bonnie hanging from a rope tied to the ceiling rafters. Horrified, the boys flee.
In the morning, the authorities come for the dead bodies, as the girls had apparently made a suicide pact: Bonnie hanged herself, Therese overdosed on sleeping pills, and Lux died of carbon monoxide poisoning after sealing herself in the garage with the car running. Mary attempted suicide by putting her head in the gas oven, but failed. She lives for another month, before she ends her life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The adults in the community go on as if nothing happened. Local newspaper writer Linda Perl notes that the suicides come exactly one year after Cecilia's first attempt and describes the girls as tragic creatures so cut off from life, that death wasn't much of a change.
After the funerals, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon leave the suburb never to return. The Lisbon house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area. All the furniture and personal belongings of the Lisbons are either thrown out or sold in a garage sale. The narrators scavenge through the trash to collect much of the "evidence" to save as mementos.
The boys never forget about the Lisbon sisters. Later, as middle-aged men with families, they lament the suicides as selfish acts from which they have not been able to emotionally recover. The novel closes with the men confessing that they had loved the girls, but that they will never know the motives behind the suicides.
Sofia Coppola wrote the screenplay and directed a 97-minute film version, filmed in Summer 1998, and released on May 19, 1999 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was then released on April 21, 2000, in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The film starred Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett. The film remains very faithful to the novel, as much of the dialogue and narration is taken directly from its source. The film was given positive reviews and is considered faithful to the book in spite of the latter's non-traditional narrative and was rated R for strong thematic elements involving teens.
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