I really enjoyed this book, the second Eugenides I have read this season, and I was glad I did not hear about the "twist" (for lack of a better word) in The Virgin Suicides. I am not sure how I avoided hearing about it considering the book is now over 20 years old and has been hanging just on the periphery of my reading life, I actually walked out on friends watching the movie in college but I was a stupid then and wanted to go get drunk instead of sitting around watching some movie with a group that has since become my closest friends.
It is not really a twist, and that explains why I never heard about it, when you've set out in the title the fact that five teenage girls are to commit suicide, everything else fades into the background. Eugenides sets us up for the hit, hiding the narrator in plain sight. He happens to be, well, whoever he is, but, as it starts, you get the feeling it could just as easily be written by Ms. Perl, Uncle Tucker, Peter Sissen or any of the others from the cast of small town busybodies that feel familiar in a way that makes me uncomfortable--much of this book makes me feel uncomfortable, but in the way it should, challenging the way I look at the world. As it moves on, however, the narrator starts to appear less a quiet observer and more a Humbert Humbert, the story itself being misshapen through his perspective and manipulated through his writing. It would be/will be interesting to read again, knowing the role the boys play in the end and watching for that dynamic, but I am happy I got to feel my way through the first reading deciding and then second guessing my feelings on certain characters, trying to guess how it all goes down, then being lulled, like the boys, into a shock.
Something in how we never quite see the girls clearly. The narrator insists his clutch know them better than the other townspeople and journalists, but we see the Lisbon girls through the narrators reaction, which is that of every adolescent boy. They are mysterious. The boys are very aware of the Lisbon girls' bodies down to odors and facial hair, and they are transfixed by them. The whole book they see the girls the same way they did when Peter Sissen peeked around upstairs, enthralled by the ladies undergarments, makeup and Tampax, and in a demonstrable way, like Sissen, who grabbed the brassiere off the crucifix, they are, decades later, still swiping ephemera from the objects of their desires.
Actually the later collection, which we learn about first, is less weird seeming to be part of an investigation of the suicides. It is when we learn that the boys have already started a collection that I really started to question the narrator.
The Virgin Suicides will dump you right back into the hormonal throes of adolescent love, but it does so in a way that gives it weight, that respects the pain and damage we can do even in our most foolish years and leaves out the nostalgia.