The Virgin Suicides

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The Virgin Suicides

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Jun 9, 2008, 6:41 pm

Okay. I've posted in quite a few threads how much I hated TVS. I'm interested in hearing what people have to say about why they liked it and/or what the message/purpose was.

I loved Middlesex and was so shocked at how many negative feelings I had for TVS as I was reading it and now, 2-3 months later.

Jun 9, 2008, 7:15 pm

I liked The Virgin Suicides even before I read it, there was an excerpt in a magazine from the party they had and then the first suicide.

I felt that there was an honesty to the story, I liked the boys telling it and I liked all five Lisbon girls (although not so much Cecelia as the others).

It wasn't exactly realistic, all those years later and the boys were still obsessed by those five girls. But I could see how five nearly identical looking sisters could captivate the imaginations of them and the suicides and suicide attempts would make them pretty hard to forget.

I felt sorry for the girls, cooped up like they were and shielded from normal life and I really did not like thier mother.

The story just intrigued me and caught my imagination. I was only about 18 when I read it, so not so much outside the ages of the girls themselves, and that might have helped me to take to it. But I still love it now.

It put me in mind of Nicholson Baker's Vox in that I took to the characters right away and found them to be nice people I would have liked to know in real life.

I took the message to be that by overprotecting your children you could essentially be damaging them so much more than the world at large would have if you had just let them be. And that teenage years are a tough time to get through. That's kind of a simple and obvious message but it wasn't a book I thought contained anything much deeper.

I'd love to see someone prove me wrong with thier impressions of it too.

Why did you hate it so much?

Jun 10, 2008, 9:33 am

Hi Jody:

Here's my review of it, written earlier this year.
I just finished The Virgin Suicides. I have rarely been happier to finish a book. Starting about page 50 or so I couldn’t wait to be finished with this book. Normally, if I don’t like a book, I put it down. However, in the spirit of the 888 challenge and my own personal rule that for this year at least, whatever I start I finish, I read the whole thing.

It was very well written. I loved Middlesex and bought this book after on the strength of that book. There was no mystery about how the story would end, and the despondency of the narrators throughout the entire book is a testament to what they felt for the girls. The language was vivid, the descriptions of the neighborhood spoke to my own experience growing up, and all the references to the music were MY music.

It was just so depressing, though! Deft portrayals of 70s neighborhoods, high school, teenage sexual tension, lives slowly playing out their destiny. The absolute strangeness of Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon and their total betrayal of their daughters struck me from the first moment. And, for better or worse, society left people alone to their fates more then than now. Now there would be social workers and legal involvement in the girls dropping out of school, and criminal investigations for the second set of suicides. All the involvement by all authority figures seemed so vague and useless.

Nothing good seemed to come to anybody in this book. Lives played out sadly, wistfully, yearning towards the Lisbon girls. I honestly can’t figure out why the author wrote this book.

I would say I was sorry I read the book except that it will probably be one of those books that haunt me and make a mockery of my wishing I hadn’t read it. 3/19/08 - still sorry I read it!

And, today, 6/10/08, I'm still sorry I read it. It does haunt me. Maybe another reason is that I have an almost-15-year-old-daughter and it hits close to home. It was well written but that didn't outweigh the dismal story about the sad and wasted lives of pretty much everybody in the book.

Thanks for your input.

Editado: Jun 10, 2008, 10:11 am

I liked it because it is unusual and non-formulic and much better than Middlesex which I thought was weak. A portrait in suicide without explanation. Many reasons for suicides are not obvious to the survivors and I think if he'd given us this, it would have rung less true. I also liked the approach he took of total sadness and loss. If the tone had been different, I bet people would have called his portrayal insenstive. That being said, I thought the narrators were collectively unbelievable in their total sensitivity and wistfullness over the loss of the Lisbon girls. I've never met a boy in real life who would feel like that or be able to articulate it, even years later after supposed 'maturity'. Still, I found it a unique and memorable story.

Jun 10, 2008, 11:31 am

I really admire the author's ability to totally inhabit (and portray) the mindset of his adolescent narrators in TVS as well as in Middlesex.

Ago 24, 2008, 10:48 pm


I'm new here.

Did anyone else see some of the stories from TVS folded into Middlesex? It was a like a draft of some chapters out of Middlesex for me. I loved both books.

Dez 30, 2008, 9:20 pm

I personally liked TVS much better than Middlesex. Although I didn't grow up in the 70, I could relate to the girls. Suicide is such a universal topic. As long as people fail to understand one another their will be suicide. As someone slightly older than a teenager, myself it was easy for me to understand the pain that arises from the misunderstanding between parent and child. I always felt misunderstood by my parents and I think that was the key to the book. I could relate to the girls. I think being able to relate to the story is what made such a depressing topic likeable.

Dez 31, 2008, 1:16 am

>7 readerbabe1984: Me too.
Although the first part of Middlesex was good (the Anatolia to America part) and the rest of the book had some fine pieces I thought the book as a whole too slick. The reason for that can be that I read it (with great expectations) in Greece.
Reading TVS was quite an experience!

Abr 21, 2009, 9:09 pm

I first read The Virgin Suicides when I was twelve years old. Having grown up in a suppressive religious environment alongside three sisters of my own, Eugenides captured the stifling essence of our existence and made it tangible-- while unrealistic to some, the Libson girls' story holds a certain truth that is incredibly relatable to all those who have experienced the overpowering control that may be found within extreme religion, and also, of course, to those who have simply experienced overpowering control.

Eugenides' novel is triste, wilting at the edges with a certain sadness that truly emanates depression; this sadness does not just melt away when the reader tires of it, just as the sadness does not melt away for the girls. While this depression was not exactly pleasant to read through, I found Eugenides' novel to be a masterful and worthwhile tale of caution and misdeeds, repression and obsession.

The narration through the perspective of the neighborhood boys also added a contrast to the novel's subject, and a more curious and inquisitive tone underlying the more obvious feelings of the Libson girls. I also found a lot of symbolism and a variety of thought-provoking concepts in the book.
The diseased neighborhood trees, for example, seemed to represent depression; Cecilia was the one who was truly close to the trees, and yet it was her sisters who tried to save them, who became attached to the dying trees, then only to begin dying themselves. I do not necessarily consider the meaning of the novel to be 'Don't suppress your children; they'll kill themselves,' as much as something along the lines of 'Depression will put down roots wherever it grows, and have a lasting impact upon everyone around it, not just the one afflicted.'

I loved this book; it made me think and it made me feel in ways that others have not always succeeded.

Abr 22, 2009, 11:20 am

Thanks all, for your input! stephiewonder, I appreciate your sharing.

It's now been over a year since I finished the book and I don't think I'll ever 'like' it, nor will I ever re-read it. My copy made it's way to BookMooch a long time ago and now, hopefully, has a place where someone can appreciate it.

Mar 25, 2010, 12:10 am

I thought The Virgin Suicides was a jewel of a book. I loved the spare, lyrical writing combined with the choral narrative voice. I read this at 22, when it first came out and still have my hardback first edition. The age at which I read it may influence how I felt about it. I felt that Middlesex didn't live up to the promise of TVS, although I definitely felt sympathy for the author under so much pressure to produce something up to his previous standard.

Perhaps I wouldn't have liked it as much if I wasn't so close to adolescence myself when I read it, because I found that Middlesex had a lot of the same preoccupations with sex and gender and identity and I found these motifs a bit tiresome as an older person.

Mar 29, 2010, 1:23 pm

Hi Anastasia169. This book seems to be a "love it" or "hate it" book, mostly "love it". I realize I'm in the minority. Nothing new with that, though.....

I still think about it with dislike even though re-reading my own review I can remember how well-written it was and how vividly it portrayed a particular place in time. The subject is just awful, though. I'm so glad it isn't in my library.

Mar 31, 2010, 11:51 pm

#12 - Suicide is an awful subject, its true and there is no way around that, but I did love the writing and the evocation of that place and time. I will however side with you on one aspect of the book: the girls and their motives were often ciphers, I understand that women are often mysterious to fourteen and fifteen year old boys, but I think they are sometimes a mystery to Jeffrey Eugenides as well, thus his thematic obsession with gender. And, if I am completely honest, there were a couple of times when I just wished the girls would get over it. Not very nice, I know. That said, I can remember buying this book, when a new hardcover was a treat financially and I couldn't afford any duds and falling into the book on a sunny spring afternoon - si, I have good memories of it. I haven't read it since my early twenties, so that might make a difference. It was the right book at the right time for me.

Jul 17, 2013, 9:41 am

I understand that Eugenides got the idea of writing The Virgin Suicides from a story he heard about a family of sisters who all at some time attempted suicide in their lives. Maybe he also used this story as a vehicle to express the lost lives and dreams in America. Let me explain. I read a Jeffery Eugenides interview yesterday and in it he contributed much The Virgin Suicides sombre tone to something he himself witnessed and experienced:the devastating social and economic decline of Detroit. He said that seeing one of America's most prosperous cities fall to ruins really affected him. I imagine that this decline is still unimaginable and incomprehensible to many Americans just as the suicides of the Lisbon sisters in Eugenides's book are to me and other readers. I see the suicides in this book as an expression of the often senseless loss and decay that is happening in the world around us today.

Jul 17, 2013, 11:08 am

Here is a direct quote from and the link to the Jeffery Eugenides interview that I mentioned in my earlier posting:

«The Virgin Suicides is about the city, too. It’s about Detroit in an indirect but crucial way. It was years after writing the book that I came to understand this. When I was born, Detroit was the fourth-largest city in the country. The population stood at more than a million people. But people were already beginning to flee, and in 1967, when the riots occurred, the trickle turned into a flood. My entire childhood coincided with the demise of Detroit. I grew up watching houses and buildings fall apart and then disappear. It imbued my sense of the world with a strong elegiac quality—a direct experience of the fragility and evanescence of the material world.

That was what I was really writing about. I had imagined a family of suicidal sisters, five brief lives, and I’d put them in an atmosphere of ruin and decay—the dying automobile plants, the dying elm trees—but the source of all this, psychologically and emotionally, had to do with the impermanence of everything I knew as a child.»