I believe I just used the phrase literary pyrotechnics to describe The Virgin Suicides


At some point while Christa was reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles she said (and I can’t find it now) that trying to talk about the book without doing an interpretive dance was nearly impossible.

This perfectly sums up how I feel about Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. It’s hard to talk about this story of the five tragic Lisbon sisters and the neighborhood boys who grew to be obsessed with them without using your hands and your face and the rest of your body.

Told from the first person plural point of view, which works in a way that amazes me, The Virgin Suicides is about a neighborhood’s coming of age in the suburban 70s and centers around the suicides of the mysterious Lisbon sisters.

The boys of the neighborhood are obsessed with the Lisbon girls and that obsession is only amplified when the youngest one, 13-year-old Cecilia, fails at attempting suicide only to succeed a few months later. She kills herself in the middle of a party by jumping off the roof and landing on a fence.

Cecilia’s death marks the beginning of the end for the Lisbon family. The reader, like the boys, who are now men telling the story some thirty years after the suicides, watch as the family implodes. It’s mysterious and heartbreaking and suffused with the kind of longing that seems to roll off of teenage boys.

Gah! I loved this book. It just works on so many levels.

The language is so beautiful it will weigh heavy on your heart long after you’ve read it. Eugenides imbues the book with a floaty, misty tone that softens the edges of a story that features multiple teen suicides.

As I mentioned it’s told from the first person plural point of view — we watch the Lisbons, we went to the dance. You’d think this might be oft-putting but it’s not at all. Because, ultimately, this is the story of those neighborhood boys and how this event changed their lives. It’s the coming of age for an entire neighborhood of kids.

It all seems so dark and dreary, but the book is not without its lighter moments, a lot of which involve a dingy newspaper reporter.

Like I said it’s hard to write about the book without grand hand gestures and modulating your voice. This is one of those books that I think anyone with any interest in writing should read because the way it is crafted and the risks that Eugenides takes are kind of mind-blowing and for it all to work so exquisitely is the kind of literary-pyrotechnics that should come with the label (as my writing teachers have often said about Denis Johnson and Sandra Cisneros) “Don’t try this at home.”

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  1. christa 23.Jan.09 at 7:01 pm

    Such a great book. Eugenides is a gymnast. And then in “Middlesex” I found myself attracted to a hermaphrodite.

  2. Pingback: Getting cornered by a drunk in a bar | Minnesota Reads

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