Upon its release in 1993, Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, gained critical attention after the first chapter was published in The Paris Review. Following the consequent international reception and success, Eugenides extended the chapter into a 250-page novel that explores the concepts of youth and sexuality through a filter as grim as it is romantic. The book initially caught attention with its decisively poetic prose; in an interview with The Paris Review following the book’s full-length publication, Eugenides described The Virgin Suicides as “a lyrical novel.” In any case, the piece proves itself to be original and captivating—in both prose and content matter.
The novel is written from the perspective of a group of boys who lived in Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s, but have now grown into successful professionals in varying fields. Through their writings, the communal narrators create a retrospective manifesto for a group of girls that lived on the same street as them when they were younger. These girls—the illusive Lisbon sisters—served as idealized muses for the boys when they were younger. The men freely admit their deep-seated affections for this group of girls that they never knew personally.
Eugenides crafts a quietly perfect suburban atmosphere for this story to take place, only to have it shatter when the youngest Lisbon sister commits suicide. Quickly, the novel devolves into a slew of neighborhood gossip assimilated by the narrators; because they were never offered the opportunity to know the Lisbon sisters in an intimate sense, they learn everything that they can about the girls through the form of neighborhood hearsay. The Virgin Suicides is largely an exploration of the boys’ grapple between their idealized versions of the Lisbon sisters and their grim reality. In pursuit of understanding why one of their perfect Lisbon sisters would kill herself, they find themselves struggling to insert their presence into the lives of the surviving sisters.
While the story itself serves as an intriguing narrative where Eugenides excels is in his writing,the novel is written entirely in the form of first person plural, and by having the reader experience the story through the eyes of several different narrators. Eugenides manages to add a sense of community to the tragedy, with a sense of poetry, and oftentimes his sentences have a sense of rhythm and meter; The Paris Review wrote that The Virgin Suicides “comes across as a sort of prose poem.” Between these two characters of writing, the novel takes on a completely ethereal quality, and the author welcomes the reader to experience something horrible through the veil of a dream.
The Virgin Suicides stands out as a novel that took the quiet and complacent life of a Midwestern suburb and sculpted it into an introspective drama. Within the novel, the narrators struggle between their infatuation and their understanding of death, and Eugenides deserves commendation for his skill as an author. Ultimately, the novel stands out as an original and unique read.