Years ago, when I saw the movie The Virgin Suicides, I didn’t know it was based on a book. It was only when I read Jeffrey Eugenides’ second novel, Middlesex, that I realized his first book was
the basis for the movie. I didn’t like Middlesex, but I have to say, The Virgin Suicides is nearly perfect. It’s strange, sad, funny, engrossing, and even though it was written in 1993, timely.
If you were a fan of the movie, you’ll enjoy the book. It’s one of those rare instances when the movie and book are complementary and enhancive. Entire passages of dialogue and narration are
used to great effect in the movie, and fleeting details like hand gestures, physical descriptions and songs are made significant, translated from page to screen perfectly.
The book opens with a spoiler, of sorts. The narrator, a young neighbor and one of the many boys who is obsessed with the Lisbon family, is recounting the suicide of Cecilia, the youngest daughter. Over the next 13 months, as the parents increasingly isolate the remaining four daughters, the mystique surrounding the family grows, as does the boys’ obsession. They catalog their comings and goings, speculate on their lives based on the contents of their garbage, and spy on the girls from a bedroom window across the street. There is virtually no interaction between the boys and the Lisbon daughters until the boys are permitted to take the girls to prom, an eventful night that ultimately sets the direction for the end of the novel.
The Virgin Suicides could be called a horror story. There are certainly plenty of chilling passages and shocking events. At the same time it is a coming of age story that perfectly captures the insecurities and imaginations of young girls and the urges of young men. It is also a cautionary tale of sex and lust, and a study of the somewhat hypocritical community that initially rallies around the family but ultimately gossips and whispers and moves on to the next tragedy.