The Lost Boys: False lives lived through teenage eyes in The Virgin Suicides
Jeffery Eugenides’s 1993 debut novel The Virgin Suicides paints a poignant yet uncomfortable and shallow picture of male adolescence. The story is narrated from the perspective of an adult and recounts a group of friend’s childhood obsession with the strange and beautiful Lisbon sisters and their reactions to the girls’ subsequent suicides. While the narrator is never formally introduced as one character, a crowd mentality is present that treats the four girls as a commodity. The heartbreak of the first sister’s death seems to be muted when in comparison to the death of the boys’ teenage fantasies. Eugenides’s novel deceptively tries to center the story around youthful infatuation in the face of tragedy, however the real plot is exhibited in the disturbing proprietorship that the young boys display towards the sibling’s view as one stimulatig and mythic entity.
The story introduces the characters’ obsession through Peter Sissen’s excursion to the Lisbon’s house and the girls’ private washroom (Eugenides 7). While his intrusion into the girls’ personal lives might be brushed off as youthful curiosity, his blatant disregard for the girls’ privacy is displayed as he rifles carelessly though the girls’ things, taking “inventory” of their belongings and even pilfering items to show and boast to his friends (7-8). The boys are ecstatic and envious over his experience, which leads the “bad boy” of the group, Paul Baldino, to use his connections to one up Peter by breaking into the Lisbon’s house in the hopes to find one of the girls naked. There is no expression of remorse over the narrator’s actions, nor from Paul himself or from the rest of the group and the only sign of shame comes from finding Cecilia’s suicide attempt rather their own actions (11). That seems to be the general theme of the novel, the boys seem to only show regret when it affects one of their lives personally, rather than any of the Lisbon girls.
While the tragedy of the girls’ death is shown through their family’s degradation, the real emphasis lies the tragedy and their perception of the Lisbon sisters affects the boys’ lives. The obvious psychological impairment that would come from witnessing the death the girls is never mentioned in the book, instead the distress that comes from the deaths come from the form of a lost fantasy each of the boys possess towards the group of girls. It is admitted in the book that the girls aren’t thought of as individual beings but as a singular entity and as the boys are discussed as “we”, the Lisbon girls often are talked about as “they” as emphasized though Peters foray at their family dinner: “They gazed at him with their blue febrile eyes and smiled, showing their crowded teeth, the only feature of the Lisbon girls we could ever find fault with” (7). Even as the girls’ individual identities start to develop, they are talked about in ways which they independently impact the boys’ lives. Luxe is the main ringleader who broke away from the mold but only because of her promiscuous attitude towards the boys of her school. However, she doesn’t show any inclination towards any of the group until Trip Fontaine, yet the fantasy of her pales in comparison to the reality of her and their relationship ends (134). The treatment of the girls is as one unit, by the boys, the neighbourhood and maybe even their parents seemed to have led the girls to believe the same. This is apparent by the way they retreated from the public after Cecelia’s death, and by their final departure done as one group suicide. Earlier when the boys read Cecelia’s stolen diary they note that she too seems to talk about them as a “single entity” (39). The only redeeming factor about the boys comes too late, when they realize that as much as they obsessed over the girls, they realized they didn’t really know the Lisbon girls (210) and that by putting the girls on a pedestal, their infatuation prevented them from ever properly doing so
The Virgin Suicides provides readers with story regarding group of neighbourhood boys who take obsession with the Lisbon sister’s so far that it was an impediment on theirs and the girls happiness. Eugenides book is well written and it hooks you in what is supposed to be a compelling book about young love and sacrifice. However, the characters come across as shallow, and in some stare of teenage ennui and the harder the boys try to know the Lisbon girls, the further they got from actually knowing them. The books plots is not about the suicide of four sisters but about the sad lives of bored and privileged who lived on the fringes of the girls lives, frustrated by the fact that they would never get closer.
Word Count: 802