“So much has been written about the girls in the newspapers, so much has been said over back yard fences, or related over the years in psychiatrists’ offices, that we are certain only of the insufficiency of explanations.” (Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides)
In case you mistrust the title, Eugenides tells you within the first few pages that all five Lisbon girls do end up committing suicide. You read not so that you can see the plot develop, or even glimpse, ghoulishly, the manner in which they chose to kill themselves, but because you keep asking yourself ‘why’, ‘why would they do that’? Eugenides, appropriately, never gets to the bottom of it. He presents his arguments and theories from the perspective of several besotted young men, known only collectively as ‘we’, but in the end concludes that we can only ever guess at the motives of another person.
This book saves Eugenides for me. After The Marriage Plot – perfect until 3/4 of the way through – it took me years to work up the courage to sample another of his works. What if Eugenides just couldn’t write an ending? It would mean that all of that brilliant writing, writing that makes you want to claw your head open so that you can absorb it fully and forever, would be of no use, for it couldn’t produce a book worth finishing. Thankfully, Virgin Suicides ends brilliantly, not with the slow dwindling of the suicide climax, but theoretically, calmly, with Eugenides musing on the change of the American lifestyle and the selfishness and emptiness of suicide.