Monday, November 19, 2007

Virgin Suicides

I re-read The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides partly as research for my slowly progressing NaNoWriMo novel, party just because I haven't read it for a while. It's been quite a few years since I read it the first time, and since then I've seen the movie (dir. by Sophia Coppola) and also read Eugenides's Middlesex and realized what a genius he is. And, it was interesting rereading it after those events because I realized The Virgin Suicides is also rather genius in itself, and although I really like the movie, it doesn't have much to do with the book. The book is told from the perspective of these nameless men that used to live across the street from a family of 5 girls and two parents. As boys they fantasizes and spied on the girls as much as possible, and as adults they continued to obsess about the girls and their suicides, trying to piece together a history for the sisters, and meanings for their deaths. Eugenides has crafted a really disturbing story, not allowing the girls any voice at all (outside of a few sentences here and there), and only telling the story through the voice of the collective "we", the "us" of the unknown boys, and their fetishization of objects they've gathered in a lame attempt to solve the "mystery" of the mass suicides. The obsessive chronicling of the girls by these man/boys, even while they can hardly tell one from the other, exemplifies how little control the girls had over their own lives and representation in the world. In death they are given various meanings and morals, but the truth is (as in real life) there are no easy answers after someone commits suicide.

I've got my own theories about why the girls commit suicide, but (I don't think I'm ruining it for you by saying that) Eugenides makes it clear that there are no easy answers. One of the best lines (in the book and the movie) is spoken by the youngest girl, who's first suicide attempt fails. A doctor asks her why she would want to harm herself with her whole life ahead of her, and she says, "Clearly, Doctor, you have never been a 13 year old girl."

Eugenides perfectly describes how disastrous the affects of over-sexualizing and under-estimating the teenage girl can be, and it's a pretty damning critique of the isolation of our society.


Sonya said...

Good luck with your NaNoWriMo novel-- I can't believe you're doing research!!!!

Kathy said...

I guess I'll have to reread The Virgin Suicides now.... Eugenides is indeed brilliant. Middlesex was an astonishing accomplishment in fiction. I wonder what his personal background is. I should check that out.

Kat said...

I love The Virgin Suicides because it does have a rhetorical purpose, as you've noted, but Eugenides' writing is just so beautiful. After I read that novel I was jealous for about an hour and then I searched out everything else he'd ever written. Loved Middlesex as well, and I can't wait for whatever he does next.