Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Town Monday: A Book Review-The Virgin Suicides


My Town Monday Book Project:

The Virgin Suicides

I don’t exactly live in Detroit. My house is about eight blocks from the city limits and in an upper-middle class suburb. I have mixed feelings about this locale. Good schools, good city services, leafy streets, but a right-wing newspaper, Republican voting, certain limitations in what's available.

Since I work in Detroit and am there for cultural activities, ballgames, restaurants, I count myself a Detroiter. But for the purposes of this assignment from Travis Erwin: reviewing a book written about my community, I chose one written about Grosse Pointe: The Virgin Suicides. Most Grosse Pointers prefer Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides second novel, a more conventional novel despite its subject matter: hermaphroditism.

But I greatly prefer Eugenides first book The Virgin Suicides. Stylistically especially, I find it enthralling. Who else has written a first novel in the collective voice of a group of teenage boys?

The Virgin Suicides is the story of five sisters and the effects of their suicides, one after the other, on their community, and especially on the boys, who narrate the novel. The boys are under the sisters’ spell and watch helplessly as their mother, the community, the church, the school drive the sisters relentlessly toward their deaths. In particular, we see the mother, Mrs. Lisbon, the traditional Catholic mother from that era, as she tightens their leash in an attempt to control her daughters, pushing one after the other off the ledge. It's easy to see the seductiveness of suicide in this novel, how it looks like the only way out. The stakes are not so high for people under twenty, the finality is not apparent yet.

Eugenides attended a private school and experienced an even more privileged Grosse Pointe than most people in the community. But I think he captures the ambiance of a slightly lower echelon very well. But the book's greatest strength is its style. It's poetic. It's heartbreaking.

The Virgin Suicides was made into a movie by Sophia Coppola but filmed in Canada. I like the movie quite a bit but I like the book more.


Check out other book reviews about Home Towns at:http://traviserwin.blogspot.com/

14 comments:

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Patti,

I saw the movie and it was disturbing, so I won't confess to a desire to read the book. You explained it beautifully.

Terrie

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is disturbing. I think the movie may have been more disturbing than the book as if often the case.

Todd Mason said...

Oh, I dunno...I saw the film but didn't read the book, and found the film excessively mannered, which actually got in the way of story it was telling...that, and that the young man who was the narrator seemed to have figured out Nothing about the girls from the distance of years (as he narrates the tale in retrospect) seemed a bit improbable. I shall have to try the novel, now.

Lisa said...

I really liked the movie and had always been interested in reading the book -- now I just might. Thanks for the recommendation.

Barrie said...

I really like a disturbing book from time to time, so I'm adding this to my list. Thanks!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Really disturbing book especially if you have teenage girls.

Travis Erwin said...

I've never read any of his work but he's definitely on my list. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie and someday I'll sit down and catch the whole thing.

By the way, I plan to get a forgotten book up on Friday.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll be looking for it, Travis.

Clair Dickson said...

The movie was haunting. Never read the book. Though, as a Michigander, I always get geeked when I find things set in Michigan. Even if I never would go to Grosse Pointe (or anywhere in Metro Detroit) willingly.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'm gonna drive up there and kidnap you someday. You've given me a lot of maps on Mondays. Hey, I think I have a new story idea here.

WordVixen said...

Wow- it sounds like the kind of book that I wouldn't enjoy, but wouldn't be able to put down, either. I'm easily (temporarily) influenced while reading well told stories, so I'm thinking that I'd better skip it.

lyzzydee said...

I have not heard of this book, perhaps I am not well read. I may have to check it out now after this taster!!

debra said...

I have 2 teen aged daughters, Patti. Real life can be disturbing enough--don't know if I have the stomach for this one. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Don't read it, Debra. I remember when the suicides were actually going on here they brought some crackpot shrink into the schools. He was terrifying. Wait till they're in their thirties to try it.