When I was away in Europe these past three weeks, I read The Virgin Suicides, the only book I probably could have managed to read other than “How to Learn Italian Real Fast”. I had seen the movie a number of years ago and liked it but reading the book reminded me how much more of a book reader I am, than a movie lover. Don’t get me wrong. I love movies but because I am more a word person than an image person, I have a deeper love and excitement when I read great books. Reading the book after seeing the movie made me realize that movies can do justice in so many ways, but by necessity they have to leave out so many of the words. And when I read The Virgin Suicides on this trip I was reminded of this.
The opening paragraph let’s us know immediately what will transpire in the book:
“On the morning the last Lisbon daughter too her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”
And from here Jeffrey Eugenides takes the reader on a walk down memory lane to an American family suburb of the 70s where middle-age men who had once loved and known the 5 Lisbon girls in their youth, tell the story of their undoing through the lens of memory and interviews.
The book reminded me of Laurie and Ian, two students I knew in high school. I didn’t know them well but I knew Laurie well enough that when she came to our grad dinner and told me about her troubles at home because her parents were divorcing, I offered that she stay at my house because my mother had gone to Europe for the summer. She said she would take my number and let me know. A week or so later a friend of Laurie’s called to say that she and Ian had commit suicide. A double suicide. In her parents garage.
Like the Lisbon girls, in this weirdly beautiful, tragic tale, nobody could quite figure out why Laurie and Ian did it. But in this book you can piece together a family, a neighbourhood, a time, and pieces of the girls lives through people who knew them, but you never really get to know the girls themselves.
That great mystery of death, made even stranger when death is chosen, only leaves you with this strange memory. Snapshots of conversations transport you as memory serves, to a another time, that inexplicably still feels like right next door, so familiar, so still right now. I thought it was a beautiful way to tell the story.