Book #45: The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

In short, today has been a whirlwind. I’ve been up since around 5:00 AM and drove 8 hours back home from Chautauqua, NY with my mom and roommate, Ryan, after visiting Ryan during the final days of his summer internship (after I write this, I’ll be working on an “end of summer” blog post with more details on our trip — Stay tuned!).

We arrived home about an hour ago and I’m doing my best to remain alert and productive, even if my body is saying it would rather lounge and watch Netflix for the rest of the day. Since we’re already unpacked with a load of laundry in the washer, the next thing on the to do list I could think to cross off was this, updating my blog, so here we are!

Wednesday night, as I attempted to get to bed early before our drive up to New York the next morning, I (of course) found myself unable to fall asleep, which at least gave me to opportunity to finish my last reading project of the summer: Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. 

I seem to be working my way through Eugenides’s three novels in reverse order from least to most entertaining, or at least I hope that’s the case. I’ve only heard good things about his Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, and though it’s on my tentative reading list for the year, I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish it before the semester starts on Monday, so I went with a shorter option. I read his most recent novel, The Marriage Plot, last summer, and was completely underwhelmed. You can only read about the problems of rich white academics for so long, ya know?

With The Virgin Suicides, though, I felt more optimistic, mostly because I watched the film adaptation (which was Sofia Copolla’s directorial debut) in recent years and really enjoyed it. I was also vaguely curious if the movie/book would be applicable to my Manic Pixie Dream Girl thesis project, so it seemed like a worthwhile read.

I’m a little torn on whether I’d really recommend this novel. It’s written from an odd perspective; the narrator is never really identified, speaking only through a collective “we” that seems to represent the boys who grew up admiring the Lisbon girls for whom the book is named. It’s no secret that the five sisters will all commit suicide at some point before the end of the novel (hence its title), and it opens with the unsuccessful suicide attempt of the youngest Lisbon, thirteen-year-old Cecilia. I should also note here that, despite its focus on teenage suicide, The Virgin Suicides isn’t really a hugely dark or tragic book, so don’t be turned off just by the subject matter.

After reading some fifty pages of the novel, I decided to rewatch the movie because I was into the story and thought it would be fun to see it again as I was reading. This maybe wasn’t the greatest decision. I didn’t find the film as charming the second time around, and so much of its narration is verbatim from the novel that it made reading seem less urgent. I know the movie is generally well-liked, but I was bummed to realize I wasn’t as in love with it as I’d remembered.

So, should you read it? Eh. Maybe. My recommendation is this: if for some reason you’re interested in this novel and haven’t seen the big screen adaptation, go for it. If you like the novel, you’ll like the movie. If you’ve already seen the movie, make your own decision, but know that the adaptation is very faithful (apart from a slight change toward the end of the novel which relates to one of the girls’ suicides).

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