The Virgin Suicides

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The Virgin Suicides is the 1993 debut novel by American writer Jeffrey Eugenides. The story, which is set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s, centers on the suicides of five sisters. The Lisbon girls' suicides fascinate their community as their neighbors struggle to find an explanation for the acts. The book's first chapter appeared in Issue No. 117 of The Paris Review (Winter 1990),[1] where it won the 1991 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction.

The novel is atypical in that it was written in first person plural from the perspective of an anonymous group of teenage boys who became infatuated with the girls, a style mirroring a Greek chorus.[2] The narrator(s) rely on relics and interviews gathered in the two decades after the suicide to construct the tale. The novel is rich in descriptive detail, using observations about the state of the Lisbon house and the contents of the girls’ rooms to advance the plot. The effect is that the reader glimpses the novel’s main characters as if he or she were one of the neighborhood onlookers.

The novel was released and adapted into a 1999 film by director Sofia Coppola.


Plot summary

The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at the local high school and the mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.

Their lives change dramatically within one summer when Cecilia, a stoic and astute girl described as an "outsider", attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. A few weeks later, the girls throw a chaperoned party at which Cecilia jumps from their second story window and succeeds in ending her life, by being impaled by a fence post.

The cause of Cecilia's suicide and its after-effects on the family are popular subjects of neighborhood gossip. The mystique of the Lisbon girls also for the neighborhood boys, the narrators of the novel.

Lux begins a romance with local heartthrob Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to a homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three girls. Lux then misses her curfew - consequently, the Lisbons become recluses. Mrs. Lisbon pulls all the girls out of school, believing that it would help the girls recover. Mr. Lisbon officially takes a leave of absence. Their house falls into a deeper state of disrepair and none of them leave the house. A strange smell coming from the house permeates the neighborhood. From a safe distance, all the people in the neighborhood watch the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no one can summon up the courage to intervene.

During this time, the Lisbons become increasingly fascinating to the neighborhood in general and the narrator boys in particular. The boys call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls.

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