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 he 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 Issue No. 117 of The Paris Review (Winter 1990), where it 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 narrator(s) 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".
On the morning an ambulance arrives for the body of Mary Lisbon, a group of anonymous neighborhood boys recalls the events leading up to Mary's death.
The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in a suburb in Grosse Pointe Michigan during the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at a private school and the mother is a homemaker. The family has fivedaughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.
One summer Cecilia, described as a dreamer and "cherubic misfit", attempts suicide by slitting her wrists in a bathtub. She is found in time and survives. A few weeks later, the parents allow the girls to throw a chaperoned basement party in hopes of cheering Cecilia up. However, Cecilia excuses herself, goes upstairs, and jumps out of her second story bedroom window, dying when she is impaled by one of the spikes of the fence post below.
The Lisbon parents begin watching their four remaining daughters more closely, which isolates the family from the 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 girls, to go as a group. 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 misses her curfew. In response to Lux's disobedience, Mrs. Lisbon withdraws the girls from school and keeps them in isolation. The Lisbons rarely leave their home and Mr. Lisbon takes a leave of absence from his teaching job.
Over the winter Lux is seen having sex on the roof of the Lisbon residence with unknown men at night. The community watches 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 and smoking a cigarette. 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 and wander into 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.
Mary lives for another month, but ends her life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The adults in the community go about their lives 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, never to return. The Lisbon house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area. All the furniture, items 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. The boys, now middle-aged men with families, lament the suicides as selfish acts from which they have never been able to emotionally recover. The novel closes with the men confessing that they had loved the girls, who hadn't heard them calling. And despite their lifelong efforts, will never know the true motives behind the Lisbon sisters' actions.
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. Much of the dialogue and narration is taken directly from the novel. 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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