Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book: The Virgin Suicides (updated)

"You never get over it," she said. "But you get to where it doesn't bother you so much."

The Virgin Suicides is about five sisters, who within a span of a year, all kill themselves. Set in an American suburb before its elm trees were uprooted and its river polluted, the novel paints a picture of the adolescent experience when there were no social media and personal gadgets yet and neighbors, beyond cordial and communal duties such as going to church and raking leaves in the fall, are reduced to spying on families next door, behind their window blinds, to entertain themselves.

It was from those encounters and non-encounters that a group of boys tell the story of the Lisbon sisters. Their collective voice, spoken in the first person, serves as the novel's narrator, which retraces the events leading to the suicides by conducting interviews, collecting artifacts, and sharing their own version of the experience.

Jeffrey Eugenides has a gift for––I've no other word for it––rendering his setting and characters. Take this excerpt for example, as he tours the reader around the Lisbon's home:

"He came back to us with stories of bedrooms filled with crumpled panties, of stuffed animals hugged to death by the passion of the girls, of a crucifix draped with a brassiere, of gauzy chambers of canopied beds, and of the effluvia of so many young girls becoming women together in the same cramped space."

Yes, I smelled it.

There was also this:

"He put his finger in the ravenous mouth of the animal leashed below her waist. It was as though he had never touched a girl before; he felt fur and an oily substance like otter insulation. Two beasts lived in the car, one above snuffling and biting him, and one below, struggling to get out of its damp cage."


It certainly takes a dark sense of humor to appreciate this novel considering it's in flashback format and you already know that these girls, particularly this one with the gnawing monster, is already dead.

Initially, I had reservations about the book because the last thing I wanted was for the author to romanticize suicide. While the narrator does rationalize it to make sense of the tragedies, he eventually expresses the same frustration I feel whenever I hear of someone taking his own life: Why???

This is one of the best books I've read this year: the plot and writing style are breezy and engaging, considering the subject. Looking forward to watching the movie directed by Sofia Coppola; reviews were generally favorable.

* * * *


Jessica Zafra recently interviewed the author for her column.

4 * :

Deepa said...

Otter insulation? Hmm...
I've read Middlesex (which is great, you should read it if you haven't!) but not this. Another one to add to my (very long) must-read list...

Mel said...

This is one of the rare instances when a film adaptation lived up to the quality the book. You really should watch the film, Sofia Coppola captured the mood of the book really well.

Katrina Atienza said...

Loved this book and Middlesex too; currently reading his 'The Marriage Plot.' Nagiiba siya ng style with each book, it's amazing. And I agree with Mel below, the Sofia Coppola movie really captures the mood of the book. Galing!

Jason D. said...

Thanks for your Eugenides recommendations! They're all in my queue :-)

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