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The Virgin Suicides ()


Granta Top 20 Authors Under 40

A bunch of middle aged men in a Detroit suburb serve as a sort of Greek chorus, narrating a tragic tale from their teen years as the five Lisbon sisters commit suicide.  Unable to come to terms with their deaths, the boys have grown old obsessing over them.  They've turned the suicides into the stuff of myth and made them the touchstones of their lives.

But what if we readers aren't affected in the same way?  Sorta weakens the narrative structure, huh?

One of the great lies we tell ourselves is that deaths, but especially suicides, have some great secret meaning.  For instance, what really gave the Whitewater scandal legs was Vince Foster killing himself.  On some level, we all "knew" that he had to have died to hide some terrible secret.  But what if he was just a weak, overburdened man who felt like quitting?  What if deaths like his tell us nothing important?  Well, that just doesn't seem fair somehow.  In the first place, we have an understandable desire that the tragedy have some meaning.  But secondly, and probably more importantly, we get a vicarious thrill from these things and don't want to be cheated out of the opportunity to wallow in them.   If we can inflate them with portent, however false, we get to wrap them around us and roll around in them like pigs in slop, while claiming that we're concerned about their broader implications (witness these Columbine H.S. shootings).

Eugenides has basically rendered an extended wallow without even bothering to look for reasons. Give this one a pass and try Ordinary People or Bone (read Orrin's review) instead

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (D)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY : Deciphering suicide : The hijackers lacked the heroism of martyrs -- all they had was the
violence  (Jeffrey Eugenides, September 26, 2001, Salon)
    -Brat Pack (Salon Magazine)
    -Review from New York Times (Michiko Kakutani)
    -Review from New York Times Book review
    -REVIEW: of VIRGIN SUICIDES, BY JEFFREY EUGENIDES  ( FRANCES ATKINSON, The Age)

Comments:

This is the first review I agree with! I think it's a shame that our society applauds sensationalism so much. Is it not sensational enough to deal with a more realistic family trying to deal with the aftermath of a childs suicide? I guess not! She can't just overdose ... she has to impale herself on a fence in the middle of a party and the parents have to put the other girls on lockdown and then they have to have a suicide pact. I don't think this is the only reason it got such rave reviews. I kept hearing people in the bookstore saying "This really happened here". I wanted to set them straight, but out of respect for my family I kept my mouth shut. It was my sister that told Mr Eugenides about our family. I'm not totally blaming him, but I do feel he led people to believe it was based on a true story for his ratings. I am also aware that my sister was (and still is) quite melodramatic. At the time 2 of the 5 girls were in the hospital for attempted suicides ... yes, the key word is ATTEMPTED! And, I'm sorry if this is not gory enough, but we overdosed. There was no party with a side of impaling! All 5 girls are alive to this day. (My brothers are too!) There was no pact. Our attempts were a month apart. My parents did not put us on lockdown. (unless you count locking up all medication so we even had to ask for a tylenol if we had a headache. But I do feel that it's understandable given what we did.) We did not live in Grosse Pointe. Although we babysat for Mr. Eugenides brother's children and he lived in Grosse Pointe, but we lived in Detroit. Kudos to you for recommending "Ordinary People". It is a deep, thoughtful, touching portrayal of what suicide can do to a family. I know ... its not sensational enough to be a blockbuster, but I think that anyone who has been touched by suicide would find "The Virgin Suicides" insulting and not insightful at all.

- Anonymous

- Aug-23-2006, 23:53

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