Bük Kloob is a series of book reviews loosely related to a book club I started.
In navigating contemporary literature about suicide, one book asserts itself to the front: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, the author’s 1993 novel about unrequited teen love and the growing pains of a nation. It is, in many ways, a masterpiece to help us understand living and dying.
The book is about the five Lisbon daughters – Therese, Bonnie, Mary, Lux, and Cecelia – who fall like dominoes from living to dying after the youngest, Cecelia, commits suicide inexplicably. The story follows the girls as they navigate life without their youngest as they rebel and behave at the requests of their strict, Catholic parents. Everything in their little lives goes to shit, leading to a spectacular finale of orchestrated death.
While that story is simple enough, the book shines in how it is told: you’re hearing the story from the point of view of neighborhood boys who watched and awaited answers on why the girls that they loved did what they did. The point of view flashes through time, from the present of the girls’ deaths when these boys were kids to the present of the boys’ adulthood where they still are investigating the death decades later. It’s illustrative of the all consuming, ever perplexing nature of death and teen angst. These are riddles that will never be solved, no matter how alluring or repulsive they are: they are facts of our reality.
Yet, it’s limited to confine the book to “just that”: it’s a remarkable swelling of information crafted before many problems we have now were fully formed. Class woes, environmental decay, materialism and consumerism, waste: these are the core concerns of the novel, specifically as it relates to a city like Detroit. The book has folded in all these problems, whether it meant to or not – and Eugenides acknowledges the strange happenstance of this as well.
“There was a time in the ’90s when the U.S. auto industry seemed to be booming,” Eugenides told NPR in 2009, in regards to a line about the declining auto industry. “It was now out of date. And of course, now it seems even more pertinent than ever. But that whole feeling of growing up in Detroit, in a city losing population, and in perpetual crisis really was the mood that made me write The Virgin Suicides in the first place.”
In a way, that makes the book timeless while marking time, a fact heightened by Sofia Coppola’s cinema adaptation. It’s impossible to see these struggles outside of a time period or anyone else but Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon. Still, the story rings and rattles and gets under your skin, whether it has been imprinted on you or not by Coppola’s hand. Of course, the movie misses a few rich details – Trip’s gay dad, the suffocating fishflies, the decaying, arrested Lisbon house, the lone Lisbon daughter whose suicide was botched – but lands the bewitchingly dreadful tone and the theme of dreaming and being dreamed about. It may be a teen classic but it is also a suggestion of a much richer, more complicated world.
That’s what makes books so magical, isn’t it? So much can be contained in so little. There is so much to lose yourself in, to wander around in, to be occupied with. It’s both an easy and difficult book, accessible and foreign. It’s to be studied, to be reviewed, to be dissected in passing. Like the book’s narrator(s), there is no simple way to contain it. That’s what makes it so perfect.