“The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides
(First publication: 1993 / This edition: Picador 1993)
Taken during a coffee break at Wonderwall Kaffe
You’re a stone fox.
The first time I heard about “The Virgin Suicides” was back in 2010 or 2011. I was living in Tokyo with a roommate—and somehow, she invited my classmate over for dinner. (The roommate didn’t even go to my university, by the way.) I was surprised to find them in our kitchen—with him sitting in my usual chair, but it was chill enough and he and I started talking about movies. He asked me what movies I liked; I forgot which ones I listed for him but then he recommended “The Virgin Suicides” for me, if I “like those artsy films”.
My first reaction was, “….Is it scary? Like bloody and stuff?” (Can‘t do horror and bloody movies.)
I didn’t get around to watching it 2-3 years later. Another friend had mentioned that I should give it a go if I have a desperate crush for Josh Hartnett in Pearl Harbor. Again, I asked her, “…Is it scary? Like bloody and stuff?”. She replied saying that it’s not really scary, but more on the depressing side; you wonder why it had to end that way.
Curiouser and curiouser, I searched for the film online and watched it with my guards up in case some gory, bloody thing happens.
I fell in love with that film.
So, being obsessed with it and re-playing it over in my mind for days, I had to get the book as well.
I fell even more in love with the book.
I read the first time in August 2014 and just felt like re-reading it again a few days ago.
Brief plot summary: A group of boys become obsessed with the Lisbon household and the Lisbon girls across the street. There seems to be some kind of mystery about those girls—especially when the youngest one committed suicide. The girls seem to hold a certain spell that just makes everyone so curious about them.
Okay, I don’t want to summarize the second half of the book because there’s no way of doing it without spoiling it for those who haven’t read it (but now will immediately go out to purchase it.)
Like with most books that get adapted into films, this book is much more descriptive and more intense than the movie. If you’ve read “Middlesex” , you’ll understand how great a storyteller Jeffrey Eugenides is. (With lines like, “The zipper opened all the way down our spines.”… Wow, that caught me.)
This story is gritty and gnarly—it gets so eerie and intense, when you read into the lives, thoughts, pressure, and the psychological disorders of the girls, and what caused them to do what they did. You see how “messed up” and suffocating the household is—and you end up wishing you were there to do something to help them. You end up wishing you could go to that house and put everything “in order” again.
You become one of the boys—you get so curious and obsessed with these girls too, especially with Lux. There’s a certain something about her, wild and crazy as she is, that makes you fall in love with her.
It’s got a dark atmosphere, and the book’s pretty fast-paced—not an “action” one, but you feel so heavy from all the emotional and psychological problems that each page seems to add more load to your feelings.
As I read, there seemed to be this filmy, dreamy vibe throughout the whole story—like you feel infuriated but peaceful, fed-up about reality but dreamy, and tired but empathizing. That’s why I found this to be such an interesting and unique book.
It’s powerful writing when it makes you feel that much.
This is one of my most favorite books, and I’d probably re-read it at least another 50 more times in my life. (And the book’s also a life lesson on how to never raise my kids.)
(Photo from the first time I read it back in 2014. Taken at Sarutahiko Coffee in Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan.)
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book.
We knew the pain of winter wind rushing up your skirt, and the ache of keeping your knees together in class, and how drab and infuriating it was to jump rope while the boys played baseball. We could never understand why the girls scared so much about being mature, or why they felt compelled to compliment each other, but sometimes, after one of us had read a long portion of the diary out loud, we had to fight back the urge to hug one another or to tell each other how pretty we were. 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. (pg.40)
In the first few days after the funeral, our interest in the Lisbon girls only increased. Added to their loveliness was a new mysterious suffering, perfectly silent, visible in the blue puffiness beneath their eyes or the way they would sometimes stop in midstride, look down, and shake their heads as though disagreeing with life. Grief made them wander. (pg.49)
Years later he was still amazed by Lux’s singleness of purpose, her total lack of inhibitions, her mythic mutability that allowed her to possess three or four arms at once. “Most people never taste that kind of love,” he said, taking courage amid the disaster of his life. “At least I tasted it once, man.” (pg.83)
They were warm, loving, hot-water-bottle women. Even the screamers of his adult years always hit false notes, and no erotic intensity ever matched the silence in which Lux flayed him alive. (pg.83)
We just want to live. If anyone would let us. (pg.128)
Nearly two decades later, the little hair he has left remains parted by Bonnie’s invisible hand. (pg.129)
We went outside with our hair wet in the hopes of catching flu ourselves so that we might share their delirium. (pg.153)
In the end we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name. “All wisdom ends in paradox”. (pg.241)