The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

First published in 1993, The Virgin Suicides announced the arrival of a major new American novelist. In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters—beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys—commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family's fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time. Adapted into a critically acclaimed film by Sofia Coppola, The Virgin Suicides is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologizes suburban middle-American life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446670258
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 02/28/2000
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

JEFFREY EUGENIDES was born in Detroit and attended Brown and Stanford universities. The Virgin Suicides was published in 1993 and was adapted into a motion picture in 1999 by Sophia Coppola. His second novel, Middlesex, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. He joined the faculty of Princeton University in the fall of 2007.

Hometown:

Princeton, NJ

Date of Birth:

March 8, 1960

Place of Birth:

Detroit, Michigan

Education:

B.A. in English, Brown University, 1983; M.A. in creative writing/English, Stanford University, 1986

Read an Excerpt

ONE

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide-it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese-the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to lie a rope. They got out of the EMS truck, as usual moving much too slowly in our opinion, and the fat one said under his breath, "This ain't TV, folks, this is how fast we go." He was carrying the heavy respirator and cardiac unit past the bushes that had grown monstrous and over the erupting lawn, tame and immaculate thirteen months earlier when the trouble began.

Cecilia, the youngest, only thirteen, had gone first, slitting her wrists like a Stoic while taking a bath, and when they found her, afloat in her pink pool, with the yellow eyes of someone possessed and her small body giving off the odor of a mature woman, the paramedics had been so frightened by her tranquillity that they had stood mesmerized. But then Mrs. Lisbon lunged in, screaming, and the reality of the room reasserted itself: blood on the bath mat; Mr. Lisbon's razor sunk in the toilet bowl, marbling the water. The paramedics fetched Cecilia out of the warm water because it quickened the bleeding, and put a tourniquet on her arm. Her wet hair hung down her back and already her extremities were blue. She didn't say a word, but when they parted her hands they found the laminated picture of the Virgin Mary she held against her budding chest.

That was in June, fish-fly season, when each year our town is covered by the flotsam of those ephemeral insects. Rising in clouds from the algae in the polluted lake, they blacken windows, coat cars and street-lamps, plaster the municipal docks and festoon the rigging of sailboats, always in the same brown ubiquity of flying scum. Mrs. Scheer, who lives down the street, told us she saw Cecilia the day before she attempted suicide. She was standing by the curb, in the antique wedding dress with the shorn hem she always wore, looking at a Thunderbird encased in fish flies. "You better get a broom, honey," Mrs. Scheer advised. But Cecilia fixed her with her spiritualist's gaze. "They're dead," she said. "They only live twenty-four hours. They hatch, they reproduce, and then they croak. They don't even get to eat."' And with that she stuck her hand into the foamy layer of bugs and cleared her initials: C.L.

We've tried to arrange the photographs chronologically, though the passage of so many years has made it difficult. A few are fuzzy but revealing nonetheless. Exhibit #1 shows the Lisbon house shortly before Cecilia's suicide attempt. It was taken by a real estate agent, Ms. Carmina D'Angelo, whom Mr. Lisbon had hired to sell the house his large family had long outgrown. As the snapshot shows, the slate roof had not yet begun to shed its shingles, the porch was still visible above the bushes, and the windows were not yet held together with strips of masking tape. A comfortable suburban home. The upper-right second-story window contains a blur that Mrs. Lisbon identified as Mary Lisbon. "She used to tease her hair because she thought it was limp," she said years later, recalling how her daughter had looked for her brief time on earth. In the photograph Mary is caught in the act of blow-drying her hair. Her head appears to be on fire but that is only a trick of the light. It was June 13, eighty-three degrees out, under sunny skies.

*

When the paramedics were satisfied they had reduced the bleeding to a trickle, they put Cecilia on a stretcher and carried her out of the house to the truck in the driveway. She looked like a tiny Cleopatra on an imperial litter. We saw the gangly paramedic with the Wyatt Earp mustache come out first-the one we'd call "Sheriff" when we got to know him better through these domestic tragedies-and then the fat one appeared, carrying the back end of the stretcher and stepping daintily across the lawn, peering at his police-issue shoes as though looking out for dog shit, though later, when we were better acquainted with the machinery, we knew he was checking the blood pressure gauge. Sweating and fumbling, they moved toward the shuddering, blinking truck. The fat one tripped on a lone croquet wicket. In revenge he kicked it; the wicket sprang loose, plucking up a spray of dirt, and fell with a ping on the driveway. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lisbon burst onto the porch, trailing Cecilia's flannel nightgown, and let out a long wail that stopped time. Under the molting trees and above the blazing, overexposed grass those four figures paused in tableau: the two slaves offering the victim to the altar (lifting the stretcher into the truck), the priestess brandishing the torch (waving the flannel nightgown), and the drugged virgin rising up on her elbows, with an otherworldly smile on her pale lips.

Mrs. Lisbon rode in the bark of the EMS truck, but Mr. Lisbon followed in the station wagon, observing the speed limit. Two of the Lisbon daughters were away from home, Therese in Pittsburgh at a science convention, and Bonnie at music camp, trying to learn the flute after giving up the piano (her hands were too small), the violin (her chin hurt), the guitar (her fingertips bled), and the trumpet (her upper lip swelled). Mary and Lux, hearing the siren, had run home from their voice lesson across the street with Mr. Jessup. Barging into that crowded bathroom, they registered the same shock as their parents at the sight of Cecilia with her spattered forearms and pagan nudity. Outside, they hugged on a patch of uncut grass that Butch, the brawny boy who mowed it on Saturdays, had missed. Across the street, a truckful of men from the Parks Department attended to some of our dying elms. The EMS siren shrieked, going away, and botanist and his crew withdrew their insecticide to watch the truck. When it was gone, they began spraying again. The stately elm tree, also visible in the foreground of Exhibit #1, has since succumbed to the fungus spread by Dutch elm beetles, has been cut down.

The paramedics took Cecilia to Bon Secours Hospital on Kercheval and Maumee. In the emergency room Cecilia watched the attempt to save her life with an eerie detachment. Her yellow eyes didn't blink, nor did she flinch when they stuck a needle in her arm. Dr. Armonson stitched up her wrist wounds. Within five minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under her chin, he said, "What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets."

And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: Obviously, Doctor, she said, "you've never been a thirteen-year-old girl."

*

The Lisbon girls were thirteen (Cecilia), and fourteen (Lux), and fifteen (Bonnie), and sixteen (Mary), and seventeen (Therese). They were short, round-buttocked in denim, with roundish cheeks that recalled that same dorsal softness. Whenever we got a glimpse, their faces looked indecently revealed, as though we were used to seeing women in veils. No one could understand how Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon had produced such beautiful children. Mr. Lisbon taught high-school math. He was thin, boyish, stunned by his own gray hair. He had a high voice, and when Joe Larson told us how Mr. Lisbon had cried when Lux was later rushed to the hospital during her own suicide scare, we could easily imagine the sound of his girlish weeping.

Whenever we saw Mrs. Lisbon we looked in vain for some sign of the beauty that must have once been hers. But the plump arms, the brutally cut steel-wool hair, and the librarian's glasses foiled us every time. We saw her only rarely, in the morning, fully dressed though the sun hadn't come up, stepping out to snatch up the dewy milk cartons, or on Sundays when the family drove in their paneled station wagon to St. Paul's Catholic Church on the Lake. On those mornings Mrs. Lisbon assumed a queenly iciness. Clutching her good purse, she checked each daughter for signs of makeup before allowing her to get in the car, and it was not unusual for her to send Lux back inside to put on a less revealing top. None of us went to church, so we had a lot of time to watch them, the two parents leached of color, like photographic negatives, and then the five glittering daughters in their homemade dresses, all lace and ruffle, bursting with their fructifying flesh.

Only one boy had ever been allowed in the house. Peter Sissen had helped Mr. Lisbon install a working model of the solar system in his classroom at school, and in return Mr. Lisbon had invited him for dinner. He told us the girls had kicked him continually under the table, from every direction, so that he couldn't tell who was doing it. They gazed at him with their blue febrile eyes and smiled, showing their crowded teeth, the only feature of the Liabon girls we could ever find fault with. Bonnie was the only one who didn't give Peter Sissen a secret look or kick. She only said grace and ate her food silently, lost in the piety of a fifteen-year-old. After the meal Peter Sissen asked to go to the bathroom, and because Therese and Mary were both in the downstairs one, giggling and whispering, he had to use the girls', upstairs. He came back to us with stories of bedrooms filled with crumpled panties, of stuffed animals hugged to death by the passion of the girls, of a crucifix draped with a brassiere, of gauzy chambers of canopied beds, and of the effluvia of so many young girls becoming women together in the same cramped space. In the bathroom, running the faucet to cloak the sounds of his search, Peter Sissen found Mary Lisbon's secret cache of cosmetics tied up in a sock under the sink: tubes of red lipstick and the second skin of blush and base, and the depilatory wax that informed us she had a mustache we had never seen. In fact, we didn't know whose makeup Peter Sissen had found until we saw Mary Lisbon two weeks later on the pier with a crimson mouth that matched the shade of his descriptions.

Copyright (c) 1993 by Jeffrey Eugenides"

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The Virgin Suicides 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 343 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. I love the story and the sisters are beautifully written. Always read the book before watching a movie. Definitely a rule to live by.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wonderful book, writing well done but i dont think its for people who just want to read with out mutch thought. alot like Middlesex
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I say first, Eugenides is a great storyteller. Well written, draws you in, descriptive. But this is not a great story. These boys aren't realistic, holding hands, fretting about the neighbor girls, stealing their stuff (makeup? Shoes?) to idolize it. Weird boys worshipping weirder girls for no apparent reason other than they have to to make the book go. Nothing gets resolved but luckily there wasnt a big mystery to begin with so i didnt care. I felt depressed by the end--i'm not looking for happy endings when i read, but also not looking for anticlimactic absence of caring. I'd read another book from him, but their stoylines seem like real downers too, so no thanks.
scarlett77 More than 1 year ago
I just finished this and enjoyed it very much. Character development was outstanding. I found myself wanting to read it at every possible moment as tension was skillfully applied by the author. This may be one that I will re-read. Excellent...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've ever read. It doesn't offer a real explanation, but some of us "just get it". The Libson girls are brilliantly portrayed, and the confusion revolving around their acts is what you might expect from anyone. The nameless narrator give you a look into his home town and the girls down the street, while never really understanding why, they did what they did, though you can certainly speculate. It's a wonderful book that deals with uncomfortable subject matter. I have suggested it many many times, and likely will again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book of ALL TIME. I recommend this to anyone who loves the 70's, teenage voice, or depression type books. Beautifully written, I am shocked that it is not a required high school read. I read this when I turned 16, I am 17 now. It spoke to my soul and is the reason I didn't commit suicide myself. Please read this..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh my god. Wow.
queencersei on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Theresa, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia Lisbon are five Catholic sisters growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood in Michigan during the 1970¿s. Their local community seems entranced with the blond, graceful Lisbon sisters, who seem untouchable and separate from the normal world around them. Inexplicable tragedy strikes as the youngest Lisbon girl, Cecilia, commits suicide at the age of 13. This tragic event beings the downward spiral that eventually destroys Cecilia¿s four sisters within two years of her death.Narrated in a group voice of fascinated neighborhood boys, the girls last year and a half of life is obsessively observed. Every glimpse of a Lisbon girl through a window and every piece of trash from their house is examined minutely as `the boys¿ try to unravel the shocking mystery of the Lisbon girl¿s life and ultimately their deaths. The Virgin Suicides is a novel that is totally engrossing. It exemplifies the truth that often in life there no reason for why tragedy occurs and no matter how hard one tries to find an explanation, sometimes there just isn¿t one that can be found.
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mixed feelings about this one. I loved the beginning of the book -- the first sentence completely draws the reader in. From there, you basically know how the novel ends, and spend the rest of the reading following the timeline of the Lisbon girls & trace the path that brought them to the end. However, if you are a reader wanting answers & waiting for some closure, you'll likely be disappointed. I found myself falling into this category. While the prose of the book is very compelling, I was waiting for a climax that ultimately fell short. And while I believe Eugenides meant for this to be more of a pondering, thought-provoking novel which truly does reflect all of the unanswered questions in a suicide, I was still left wanting more.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"With most people," he said, "suicide is like Russian roulette. Only one chamber has a bullet. With the Lisbon girls, the gun was loaded. A bullet for family abuse. A bullet for genetic predisposition. A bullet for historical malaise. A bullet for inevitable momentum. The other two bullets are impossible to name, but that doesn't mean the chambers were empty."I saw the film when it came out, so I knew the plot, but I found it quite creepy how all the boys in the neighbourhood seemed to be obsessed with the Lisbon sisters and spent their time spying on them, nicking anything of theirs that they could get their hands on, and then comparing notes with each other. And their interest didn't end with the girls' death, but continued onwards into middle age. That came across much more strongly in the book than the film.
alexrichman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A dark, modern fairytale scattered with wonderful lines but hampered by the bizarre narration. Calliope's presence in Middlesex grounds the story as something which could be real, but the collective of creepy youths presenting a dossier on the titular sisters distanced me from their plight.
mysteena on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an amazing book. It's a coming of age book about the suicide of five sisters, as told from the perspective of the neighborhood boys. The narrator never names himself, and always refers to himself and the other boys as "we." There is no "I" in the narration, which I found interesting. Yes, it's a dark tale but told in a way so as not to make it too sad or depressing. I found the writing absolutely wonderful. His use of metaphor is perfect; when he'd describe certain things I'd think "Yes, that's exactly how it is! Why haven't I realized it before?" The narrator tells right in the beginning that all five sisters commit suicide, so I'm not spoiling by mentioning that. The first sister, age 13, kills herself first at the beginning of the book. The story is mostly about the grieving process her family goes through (from the perspective of the boys) and how they were almost not allowed to heal. It's a powerful book, a unique story. Keep in mind it is about teens, so there are a couple of explicit scenes.
sapphire--stars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was so-so. Nothing very special or memorable about it.
calmclam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, but it was rather slow going and not, in the end, very memorable. I did love the POV choice--first person plural is really rare--and the style of a quasi-documentary. In some ways it reminded me of the end of Looking for Alaska; in a lot of ways they're both about searching for meaning behind a suicide, and ultimately unanswered.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shortly after reading this book, I wrote: I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I believed in the girls' anguish and I was touched (and creeped out) by the boys' efforts, first to save them and then to preserve their memory. Now I find it impossible to retrieve any memory of reading the book, which puts it solidly in my middle-of-the-road category. If I can't remember it, it couldn't have been too striking.
Fluffyblue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really didn't enjoy this book at all. Having absolutely loved Middlesex, I found this book to be dull, boring and flat. I felt like I was just going through the motions reading it, and I felt nothing for the girls, or their family. I just didn't get to grips with the narration of the boys telling the story.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's hard to know what to say, really. Eugenides' story is well-crafted and certainly well-written, full of incidental details that make his characters and locations come alive; and yet, there seems to be something just unsatisfactory about it all, as if the choice of narrative structure removes the reader just a little too far from the action for it to strike home emotionally, or that by knowing the ending at the beginning, the rest is just explanation. That said, this is still worth reading, and I have a feeling that a lot of it will play on my mind in the weeks to come.
trench_wench on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I saw the film before I read the book (story of my life really), and was intrigued. It's a fascinating book, and I love the atmosphere that Eugenides conjures up - damn I love these 'dark tales of suburbia' type thingies.
clpteens on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Five sisters commit suicide after living an unbearable life under the strangling rules of their Catholic mother and passive father. Set in the 70's and narrated by a male neighbor who is reflecting back on this tragedy, The Virgin Suicides is teenage angst taken to its extreme. This is recommended for a mature high school audience because of the sophisticated humor and adult content. Fabulous movie tie-in too.
mich_yms on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Virgin Suicides starts with a suicide case. We are told that Mary is the last of the Lisbon girls to take her own life. From the description of how the paramedics act on the scene, we know that they have been to the Lisbon house on many occasions prior to this, when the other Lisbon daughters committed their own acts of prematurely ending their lives.Rewind the tape, and we are now taken back to when the first suicide happened. Cecilia, the youngest daughter, tries to kill herself by slitting both her wrists while in the bathtub. Her attempt is unsuccessful, and she is brought to the hospital where she is promptly brought back to life.Why did she commit suicide? And why, even after being saved and brought for counselling, did she try again? (She succeeded this time.)But the core of the story revolves around the lives of the remaining sisters and their parents. In a family so strict and bound by unbending rules set by their mother, how did the girls survive this family tragedy, their loss of their youngest sister?The whole story is told in such a way that when I was reading it, I felt like I was watching a dramatic documentary. The narrators are themselves boys who witnessed this tragedy unfold, and were then obsessed about the remaining Lisbon girls. Now, when they are older and probably middle-aged, and after having 'researched' bits and pieces of the suicides, they tell us the story.
Sovranty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book felt like a never-ending piece of gossip with hints of a stalking nature. Well written and descriptive; however, it felt a little unfocused and jumpy at times. While I probably wouldn't read it again, I gave it 3.5 stars because the curious nature of the book encouraged me to turn the pages.
Kristelh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Virgin Suicides a debut novel by Jeffrey Eugenides is the story told by a group of men who were entranced by the Lisbon sisters. It is a story of adolescents in America suburbia in the seventies and the the mundane life lived in streets lined with elms, neighbors who talked to each other and the years of school. The five sisters are Theresa, the oldest and brain, Mary the prim and proper one, Bonnie the ascetic, lascivious, Lux and Cecilia the youngest and oddest. The father is a math teacher. Ms Lisbon is controlling and won¿t allow the girls to transition from childhood to adulthood. Eugenides writes with such depth. His stories are filled with themes and symbols. I liked Middlesex better but this one is also good. I liked this quote from the last paragraph, ¿The essence of the suicides consisted not of sadness or mystery but simple selfishness.¿.
KathrynGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of those books that comes along and changes your life.
Magadri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a good book. I read it shortly after watching the movie and was surprised to find that the story was told from the boys' point of view rather than the girls'. After getting into the novel though, I liked that it was written from a point of view not so close to the main story. This book can be depressing at times, but I did not have a hard time finishing it at all. It gets a little darker toward the end, but not dark/depressing enough to stop me from finishing it.
SouthernGirlReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was surprised that I had a hard time getting thru this book. I didn't really care for the writing style of the author too much. You never knew who was talking.