It was a year unlike any other, in a small town that could be yours or mine. It had that idyllic Mayberry perfection; tree lined streets populated by friendly neighbors who knew everything there was to know about everyone else. It was also home to the five Lisbon girls. Then there were four. A year later, the Lisbon family was nothing but a memory, the town reeling from the suicides of the five girls, their parents disappearing in the night. Decades later, the boys who grew up on the same street are now men; men still infatuated with the mystery of those five untouchable girls.
This book is one of those that just reaches out and grabs you. I read it in two sittings over the course of two evenings. I still don't understand what it was about this novel that pulled me in so completely. Was it the girl's grief following their youngest sister's first attempt, followed weeks later by her successfully ending her life? Or was it their isolation, reinforced and strengthened over the course of that year? Perhaps it was the voyeurism of the boys as the watched, like peeping toms through windows, digging through the garbage, the drama that unfolded, only stepping forward to help when it was too late. Maybe it was the combination, which effects author Jeffrey Eugendies, wove together in a mesmerizing tale of helplessness, death, and obsession.
We are told the outcome of the story in the first sentence, "On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide..." and yet it didn't detract from the novel at all. You would expect knowing the conclusion before the story even starts would be anti-climactic, but it wasn't. The story is in the whys, the mystery, the reasons, just as it is in any suicide. The death itself is only the beginning, so it seems only natural that the story should be told out of order, the end coming first.
Like Eugendies' other novel, Middlesex, The Virgin Suicides is listed as on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I get it. It takes a unique story, one that given statistics and nightly news is sadly a problem that has become all too familiar, and tells it in a unique way. The narrative voice, given in the plural, noted by the use of the pronoun 'we' throughout the novel, is not one I've ever come across before. And while psychologists now know that depression, and even suicide, is often related to genetics, it's still not a story that has been told often. It's a story that needed to be told. Eugendies not only told the story, he told it well.
That said, I can see how this novel could not be for everyone. The boys come across almost as stalkers; the parents, Mrs. Lisbon especially, seem callous and uncaring - instead of getting help for their girls, they locked them away; the questions remain unanswered. For me that is part of the beauty of the novel, but in the wrong hands this narrative could have been a disaster. So I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this novel to everyone. The best I can say is try it out; read the first chapter. Within pages, you'll know.