Friday, February 5, 2010

Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides

(10: 5/50)

"And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: 'Obviously, Doctor,' she said, 'you've never been a thirteen-year-old girl.'"

The entry below will openly analyze Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides and address specifically its possible themes, symbols and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

If ever I felt the term effortless applied to anyone or anything, I would have to assign it to Eugenides' prose. They are of a striking beauty and seamlessness beyond the superficial tricks of literature. They are not a fireworks show of alliteration, or a painted vista metaphor, they are simply the craft at near perfection. They are sentences of unfaltering word choice, and yet seemingly pulled from the ether, skimmed as effortlessly as refuse from a pool.

Told in collective first-person by an unnamed, innumerable group of former neighbor boys, the novel presents the fate of the Lisbon sisters as it would be experienced by someone who had lived on their block. It's a position of close physical proximity but ultimately vast emotional distance. We, like our narrator(s), do not know our subject. We can only observe them through the dubious lens of our unknown narrator(s), and the accounts their life-long fixation has amounted to.

The Virgin Suicides is an examination of the hand-in-hand companionship of distance and decay. The former heralds the latter. More damaging than physical imprisonment or distance is self-imposed mental and emotional distance; the willingness to recede into oneself. It is a corrosive, self-dissolving attitude that leads to non-existence.

The virginal motif of the novel, I believe, refers primarily to life unlived, and life without human contact. That Mary Lisbon is the final sister to pass away suggests perhaps an even more complicated symbolic narrative than I can even begin to comprehend. References to Christendom certainly proliferate the novel, but as to a greater implication, I'm at a loss for ideas save for what Eugenides' narrator presents at the end of the novel.

Speaking of which: It bothers me immensely that this otherwise exquisitely written and fascinating novel ends quite on the note that it does. Fiction is of course a forum for personal statement, but Eugenides shift to a seat of judgement at the close of the novel, literally in its final two pages, is upsetting to say the least. It elicited a knee-jerk reaction that threatened to change my opinion of the novel. He presents two notions, one completely in keeping with his perceived intent, and another that, although maybe a commonly held belief, can be too bitter a pill to swallow. That it should be presented by our unknown narrator(s), they themselves not above questioning, makes it all the worse.

Still. It's a beautiful, enigmatic novel, well worth reading and perhaps best read before Middlesex. If this was Eugenides' focus on language, and Middlesex his focus on plot, I cannot wait to see them combined with his focus on character. Really. Whenever you're done, sir. We're waiting.

Up Next: Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

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