At the risk of upsetting a number of people, I did not much like this book, although I felt compelled to read it. Eugenides tells a very odd tale of 5 sisters who end up all committing suicide. The first one attempts to slit her wrists in the bathtub but is rescued in the nick of time, only to soon after make another attempt, successful this time, by jumping from a window to impale herself on the spike of a fence. A year later to the day, the other four sisters orchestrate their own suicides. Hanging, sleeping piles, carbon monoxide poisoning and head-in-oven are the various means. One daughter again survives to succeed at a second attempt.
The title of the book is deceitful. Not all sisters seem to be virgins at the time of their death. But the title “The Teenage Suicides” might have been less striking. In fact, other than the stories of attempted suicide, the book talks at length of teenage sexual longing and experimentation, experimentation which might happen a lot less than just fantasizing, but it seems that at least one of the sisters went beyond fantasy.
The other aspect of the book that was somewhat of a turn off for me was the physicality of the descriptions, sensual with appeal. The smells of bodies are a bit too real (maybe I was too used to romance novels’ habit of making everything so much better than reality; not that I read many romance novels beyond my teenage years). There are smells of sweat and unwashed bodies, greasy hair and bad breath, fishy smells and even putrid smells.
I have not seen the movie that was based on this book. And I wonder how you can make a movie (a visual and oral cultural object) from such an “olfactive” novel. Huxley’s Brave New World brought us the “feelies”… but I don’t think he had something like The Virgin Suicides in mind.
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