Author: Jeffrey Eugenides.
Publisher: Fourth Estate.
Jeffrey Eugenide’s chilling debut novel The Virgin Suicides (1993) explores the self-destructive nature of American suburbia amid the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters.
The narrative is from the perspective of a collection of teenage boys in the neighbourhood who, as adults, try to figure out what caused the suicides. They collect documents, evidence and neighbourhood gossip so as to put the mystery to rest. Through flashbacks, the events surrounding the girls’ deaths are explored.
The boys obsess over the Lisbon household and the girls within, mapping the gradual decline of the house and the spirits of the girls who withdraw further into their imprisoning domestic sphere but who “just want to live”(128). Although the boys try to make strong arguments for the girls’ demise, such as blaming the strict, oppressive Lisbon parents for suppressing the girls, the boys’ conclusions are only based on conjecture, and through the novel, Eugenides suggests that sometimes the truth may never be grasped.
The Virgin Suicides (1993) locates itself in 1970’s Michigan; a setting of racial divide between affluent white suburban communities and lower-class black urban communities, and a time of political unrest between USA and Russia due to fears of the Cold War. These fears of the external world are brought to novel’s centre with signs of decay and destruction encroaching upon the idyllic suburb in which the story is set. By highlighting the neighbourhoods reactions to threats, such as the diseased trees and the decaying Lisbon household, Eugenides foregrounds American fear of the other.
Hauntingly written, the novel features striking imagery as well as provocative discussions about racial class divides and the disparity between appearance and truth.