Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
Rating: 3.5/5.0

There was a period in mid-March when I felt like reading something sad. Sometimes, a really depressing read can be cathartic. I loved Middlesex, also by Jeffrey Eugenides, so this seemed like a winning choice.

The Virgin Suicides was well written, as I'd expected. I liked the way that Eugenides uses the physical deterioration of the Lisbon house as a reflection of the emotional and psychological deterioration of the family within.

This passage really stood out for me:
The man lashed the fence, in sections, to his truck and -- getting paid for it -- gave Mr. Bates the worst lawn job we'd ever seen. We were amazed our parents permitted this, when lawn jobs usually justified calling the cops. But now Mr. Bates didn't scream or try to get the truck's license plate, nor did Mrs. Bates, who had once wept when we set off firecrackers in her state-fair tulips -- they said nothing, and our parents said nothing, so that we sensed how ancient they were, how accustomed to trauma, depressions, and wars. We realized that the version of the world they rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and that for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass they didn't give a damn about lawns.
I think all parents do this to some extent, and I do this as a teacher sometimes. We try to create a world for our kids/students that reflects more of an ideal than reality. We hope that we can mold kids into it and make something better than what we had. Eventually, though, kids will have to deal with things as they are. This school year has been full of events that have forced us to address serious subjects with our students that aren't a day-to-day part of our courses. This passage reflects so well the way that our true priorities come out when tragedy strikes.

The book did not turn out to be as sad or disturbing as I'd expected given the subject matter. The way the story is told, from the perspective of a group of boys who lived across the street and observed but never truly knew what happened, results in a sense of detachment that never goes away. It's almost more of a journalistic style than novel-like. That made it a bit tough to get into. In the end, I didn't really feel like I knew much about the Lisbon girls or their family, or had much insight into their motivation. It was well written but not particularly satisfying.

Sofia Coppola made the film adaptation:

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