My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up this book because I read Eugenides's other book, Middlesex, last year and enjoyed it very much. I had seen the movie version of "The Virgin Suicides" a long time ago and was not impressed, but I thought I'd give the book a shot.
For the first two thirds of the book, I couldn't decide if I liked it. Eugenides definitely draws you into that obsessive need to know what's going on in the girls lives, the obsession with their tragedy, and the mystery around them. He writes in a detached sort of way, almost journalistic, with very little emotion or color. It took me a while to get used to, but the book is engaging and easy to read, so I kept at it.
I love the intellectual part of Eugenides writing. If he wrote a narrative non-fiction book, I'd buy it without even reading the back. He has a way of putting information together so you learn lots of interesting things without being condescended. I love his 'historical' picture of things. I don't know about the accuracy, but it seems that he's probably researched to get every detail perfect. You get the feeling while reading that you are reading the truth, that you're being taught by an expert. His picture of the suburbian seventies, the neighborhood, the elms, the music, the fish flies, are all genius. I loved that part.
However, about half the book focuses on the promiscuous sister, the only non-virgin among the group. And the boys who watch her (the narrator and his friends) seem increasingly creepy and stalkerish as the book goes on and they get binoculars and stay up all night spying on the girl having sex. It really turned me off, and I was glad the narrator was only a minor character in the book because I really didn't want to know anything about him. Their obsession with the beautiful neighbors seemed harmless at first, but after a while I started wondering if he was going to go rape them or something. It was just too gross and obsessive.
The story of the girls is laid out well, though, through the eyes of one of their creepy, spying neighbor boys. I didn't find much humor in the book, even though the back says it's supposed to be funny. Maybe all the spying on a fourteen-year-old girl having sex with grown men was supposed to be funny, but it left me cold. Also, the book had a 'Flowers in the Attic' kind of feel with the controlling mother shutting her kids away. I didn't understand why someone didn't try to do something to help them. Even the boys, who proclaim to see themselves as grown men and to be in love with the girls, don't talk to their parents about any of this. Everyone just watches and ignores it. I guess it's supposed to be part of the 'suburbia is hell' theme, but... it seemed strange to me.
I probably would have given this book only 2 stars if not for the last fifty pages. Even though the book was told in such a straightforward way that I wasn't even moved by the girls suffering most of the book, I suddenly teared up when the last one dies. I hardly ever cry during books, and it took me completely by surprise. I was nowhere near crying, and suddenly my eyes just blurred over. So I have to give the author credit, because I certainly wasn't sad for the narrator. But the girls were so weird and tragic, and throughout the book, you get a sense that they are trying to reach out and no one is paying attention (probably because they are too busy looking at the girl's asses and trying to see up their skirts). At the end of the book, he says their suicides were selfish, but I think the selfish ones were the narrator and his friends, as well as the parents. It was obvious something was wrong, and no one did anything. Oh, except the boys DID masterbate and collect strands of the girls' hair.
The last fifty pages, which aren't about the boys being creepy little voyeurs, but about the girls and their sad demise, are moving, poignant, and touching. I felt a little bit of the author's views on suicide creeping in at the end, but it didn't affect the ending too much. And as usual, the little peeks of Greek culture shine like gems. Not much of that in this book, but the parts there were lovely. Overall, I was very disappointed by this book, especially as I loved the author's other book so much better, and found it funny, rich, moving, and beautiful in a way this one wasn't.
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