“The Virgin Suicides” still holds the mysteries of adolescence
I still have the copy of “The suicide virgins”That I read for the first time in high school, the proof of my adolescence on its pages: rippling water after many hours spent in the bath, stained with the juice of the mandarins that I ate in large quantities. It’s a book I’ve read many times now, but I still remember that original encounter, how I felt like a push from my own secret world, from all the unfinished desires and obsessions of being. a teenager translated in some way into book form. Even the five sisters in Lisbon seemed to be a mirror of me and my four younger sisters – I knew the peculiarity of a home full of girls, the feverish exchanges of clothes, the rituals and ablutions, experiencing adolescence as a disease. from which we all suffered. The world of “The Virgin Suicides” was gothic and mundane, as was the world of teenagers, with our desire to catalog and make sense of any sign or symbol, even the most benign of omens of events. It was exhausting living this way, believing in the meaning of every feeling, following every minor emotional change. But still: sometimes I miss it.
“The morning the last girl in Lisbon committed suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Thérèse – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the oven. gas, and the beam. in the basement from where it was possible to tie a rope. From the first line, the reader understands that the girls of Lisbon – “girls” – will all die. Paramedics can easily navigate this latest attempt as what should be shocking – the suicide of a young girl – has become, in the Lisbon family’s bizarre logic, a routine. Even the narration is measured, calm, relaying the method of suicide with a simple aside. There is no crime for the reader to solve, no thriller. We know what’s going on. We know who dies, how and by what methods. By giving us this information immediately, with such a cold distance, Eugenides directs our attention to different questions, to another scale of romantic inquiry. Even when all the unknowns are known, every detail taken into account, every witness interviewed, how can we ever truly understand our own life?
In one of the great exploits of the voice, “The Virgin Suicides” is narrated by an anonymous Greek male choir, reflecting on their teenage years and the suicides of five girls in their Michigan suburb. The narrators are both elegiac and biting, plunging into lives, moments, acting as the collective consciousness of an entire neighborhood. The men have never really moved on – despite their “thinning hair and limp bellies,” they stand still as boys, circling the lingering mystery of what prompted the girls’ deaths. With a procedural effort, they exhaustively listed the relics of this time (“Exhibits # 1 to # 97”), conducted interviews with the smallest actors of the district, imagined themselves in the heads of the five sisters of Lisbon. – have tried, essentially, to fully animate the past. The book retroactively constructs the eighteen months between the first girl’s suicide and the last, as middle-aged narrators obsessively probe a mystery that may never be revealed, with the clues only halfway through. readable.
The Lisbon girls are strange, spectral, starting as an amorphous, interchangeable mass of five blonde girls, “a spot of brilliance like a congregation of angels”. During the careful study of boys, girls emerge in specificity: Cécilia dreamy, with her lists of endangered animals, her wedding dress mowed; Thérèse, busy with her ham radio; Bonnie, who kisses with her “scared eyes wide open”; Mary, dancing with a Kleenex in one hand; Lux, the most brash and convincing, with her high bare backs and “weird gruff laugh”. Another writer could have kept girls as a maniacal pixie fantasy, which surfaces. But Eugenides gives us a glimpse into their real, breathing selves, allows the girls of Lisbon to exist beyond the conceptions boys have of them, each with an identity that cannot simply be reconstructed by an observer, too. devoted be it. Even when they become specific, studied, obsessed, the girls of Lisbon are never really revealed, neither to the reader nor to the boys, who understand that their interest in girls never brings them closer to the truth about who girls are. On the contrary, the girls become more mysterious, more powerful, forever out of reach. The girls, they say, “knew everything about us even though we couldn’t understand them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was just to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.
As a writer, Jeffrey Eugenides constructs a world so narrow and atmospheric that the book functions like a weather system, with its own distinct logic, or like the closed circuit of a teenage brain, listening for signs and symbols. , addictive claustrophobia. Even as Eugenide questions the dream of postwar suburbia, the “dying empire” of a Michigan town, there is a sense of timelessness, the setting both immediate and supernatural, oscillating between daily troubles of adolescents and an almost mythical kingdom: when Cecilia slits her wrists, the paramedics with the stretcher are described as “slaves offering the victim to the altar”, Cecilia as “the drugged virgin rising on her elbows, with a smile from another world on his pale lips ”. Because the writing is so fluid, it’s easy to fall into its rhythms, to submit to the book as you would a dream. It’s a deep delight in “The Virgin Suicides” – its hyperspecificity, its rooms, streets and neighborhoods depicted in pixelated detail. Each description, each object, feels exactly right, the physical world is built on itself like a poem; Lux’s top tube, Cecilia’s prayer card, Apollo 11 lamp, orange baby aspirin. Even the Lisbon grocery list, drawn up by a delivery man, takes on a romantic and gnomic allure. Why do these details – fortified pineapple juice, rose-pink marble, a dirty canvas tennis shoe – evoke so much? The minor characters are treated with equally precise and often very funny attention: the aptly named Trip Fontaine with its diligent attention to tanning and its potted collection of “Great Reefers of the World”, which was deflowered by a poker dealer. from Las Vegas while on vacation in Acapulco. Or Dominic Palazzolo, “the first boy in our neighborhood to wear sunglasses”, who looked “frail, sick and temperamental, as we expected a European to look”. Eugenide renders the texture of a time and a place as it appears in memory – how a certain smell, an arrangement of objects, a pattern of sun and shadow seen from the backseat of a car , can suddenly evoke a past life, waiting below the surface.
For the narrators, all this scrupulous attention to detail appears as an attempt at moral blamelessness, an effort to defend their authority to tell the story of the girls of Lisbon. By being ruthless in their exploration of the past, they can prevent accusations of narrative agenda or impropriety, as if a sheer amount of information can replace the truth. Even though these details accumulate – data drawn from every imaginable corner of the neighborhood, from every corner of memory – they cloud the big picture. “By placing Carl Tagel’s telescope through the treehouse window, we were able to see the pockmarked moon silently flying through space, then blue Venus, but when we turned the telescope over to Lux’s window, it brought us so close that we couldn’t see anything. “Even the planets, millions of miles apart, are more readable to boys than to girls who live across the street. When boys communicate directly with girls – taking turns playing songs over the phone in hesitant conversations and mysterious – boys write song titles, the order in which they are played, passing the “sticky receiver from ear to ear”, such as “pressing our ears to girls’ chests”.
It wasn’t until later that it occurred to them that the message the girls were sending might not have needed to be deciphered, that all of their conspiracy theories and relentless efforts to crack the code supposed only obscured reality. Maybe the girls just wanted a connection. “Our surveillance had been so focused that we lacked nothing more than a glance back.” Details held the truth hostage, preventing any meaningful exchange. Suddenly the boys are involved in the fate of the Lisbon sisters, their own projections preventing them from really knowing the girls: “We decided that the girls had tried to talk to us from the start, to get our help, but we had been too. infatuated to listen. What boys call love is actually something closer to estrangement.
Boys aren’t the only ones who misjudge the world around them, perhaps fatally. Their parents, who no longer possess the moral authority that war bestows, must instead prove themselves on the meager battlefields of their suburban homes, with widespread fear replacing any specific enemy. The source of the potential danger shifts from the global – the threat of nuclear annihilation, pollution, toxic spills – to the local: dead flies crashing into neighborhood cars, neighborhood trees doomed to Dutch disease. elm. Danger or, rather, death is something external and knowable, and therefore something that can be avoided – boys get vaccinated, hold polio sugar lumps under the tongue, warns Cecilia not to touch his mouth at the water fountain. Even when Lux breaks the curfew, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon believe the problem is somewhere in the world, not Lux herself, so any threat can be mitigated by essentially imprisoning their five daughters in the house. According to the moral logic of the Lisbon people, the house should be the safest place, protected from external, global and local dangers. Then comes the more frightening realization, like in a horror movie: the call comes from inside the house. All the ballast of the suburban world, the manicured lawns and the neighbors and the spacious and practical cars, cannot ward off danger when the source is psychological, a mystery nestled in the teenagers themselves, an area beyond the reach of even the strictest. parents.