Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides, in my opinion, is a masterpiece in its own right. However, I believe it takes a certain kind of person to relate to it and to be able to take away from it what the author intended. Some people are bored by the novel, and I can almost see why: this is not a novel of conflict or high tension. This is a mystery that is gradually unraveled via the complexities of human emotion. But the mystery has no end. There is no twist and there is no reveal, and there never will be.

This is a novel about the cruelties of adolescence. The Lisbon sisters are seen as sexual objects, both by their parents and the boys. The parents’ reaction is to keep their daughters locked up in the house. The boys become obsessed and are spurned on by the twisted lust and lovesickness that comes with being a teenager. However, the boys redeem themselves when their obsessions turn into the loss of missing the opportunity to truly understand the sisters.

As a woman and a former teenager, I related so much to the tumultuous emotions of both the boys and the sisters. People often dismiss teenagers’ feelings just because they are teenagers, making their feelings somehow invalid. Women, though, always face this kind of dismissiveness, even beyond being a teenager. Our feelings are invalid because we are women. The quote below summarizes how perfectly Eugenides manages to encapsulate the feeling of being a woman and how we often feel so misunderstood and isolated, exaggerated tenfold in our teenage years:

We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.

This is a novel about suicide. The reader is put in the same place as the boys in the novel, never truly understanding what happened, and falling victim to the temptation of believing there is an option to truly understand a person who commits suicide. Eugenides is capable of unraveling the complex truths and emotions that surround the violent act, all while never truly giving an answer, which is in itself, the answer. While it was a risk for Eugenides to discuss suicide at all, with it being such a (nearly) cliche subject in literature and also a topic of high scrutiny for its depiction, Eugenides successfully depicts it with sensitivity and without fetishizing.

The writing is beautiful. It successfully depicts the whole purpose of the novel, the meaning, and manages to not hit the reader over the head with it. The last words of the novel summing up the answer simply:

…we will never find the pieces to put them back together.

The best example of Eugenides artful prose are the last few pages of the book. They are the perfect homage to the useless, wistful nostalgia of wanting to understand someone who is gone, someone you never knew, and someone you will never know. It explains the “outrageousness of a human being thinking of only herself,” which the entire town in the book reacts to with discrimination and hypocrisy, a representation of the world’s perspective on suicide and youth. It explains the existence of ghosts and the suffering of the haunted.

It takes an extremely particular kind of suffering to be able to write like this. In The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides successfully creates beauty with the enormous skill of empathetic translation.