Virgin Suicides

by: Jeffrey Eugenides

The neighborhood boys

A scattered group, the neighborhood boys narrate the story from the safety of an ambiguous "we." Their identity is revealed gradually, as the reader begins to piece together the narrator's gender, age, and membership from the kind of knowledge to which the narrator is privy. It is not until page eight, when the reader learns that"only one boy" had entered the Lisbon house that the narrator demonstrates tangible characteristics. As The Virgin Suicides names individual boys, the narrative voice takes shape as a loose collective of adolescent males, united by age, gender, residency, friendship, and an overwhelming fascination with the Lisbon girls. Their thoughts, interests, actions and dreams reflect the middle-class suburban patriarchy that they inhabit: the boys rake leaves, play football and baseball, tune cars, watch girls, do their homework, attend high school, and envy the knowledge of their older brothers. Though the boys speak in the past tense, their true narrative distance does not become clear until the book's last pages, where the reader learns that the narrators are actually middle-aged men reflecting on their childhood. The boys' narrative voice is familiar and deliberate. They present the girls' story after much consideration about the events of the past, and they speak to the reader as they might speak among themselves.

The boys' diversity gives the narrative voice access to a wide range of facts and experiences, even as it retains a very personal sense of opinion, longing, suspicion, and despair. The narrative collaboration is symbolized by the catalog of artifacts that the boys keep as a kind of shrine to the girls' lives: photographs, notes, cosmetics, candles, a bra, and tennis shoes, carefully labeled one through ninety-seven and kept in five suitcases in the boys' childhood tree house. The artifacts, found and analyzed throughout the story by various boys, are lumped into the collective consciousness in the hopes of gaining access to a comprehensive truth about the Lisbon girls. No such truth is forthcoming, the paucity of evidence weighing unfavorably against the unknown expanse of the Lisbons' lives. As time passes and the novel continues, the boys find that the individual artifacts have become less potent, triggering memories only after seconds of intense concentration. Even as the boys catalog these pieces a second time, for the reader, they are aware that the objects' ritual and symbolic power is fading. Likewise, the physical disintegration of the artifacts at the book's end reflects the disintegration of the boys' less tangible memories, as both fall victim to the ravages of time.

As the novel begins, the boys attempt to remain objective, frequently mentioning facts gleaned from others and rounding out the narrative with diverse and irreconcilable opinions. As the story progresses, such interjections occur less and less frequently, and are replaced by meditations on melancholy and loss. Though the events of the novel have long since passed, the reconstructive process of narration gives way to the boys' sorrow at the impossibility of the sisters' recovery and the impossibility of uncovering of the Lisbon mystery. In the winter of the girls' house arrest, the boys finally single out the reader as "you," rejecting even the most sympathetic of readers as outsiders. By the novel's end, the boys find themselves to be outsiders as well, able neither to enter the Lisbon girls' world nor to recover the truth of their own adolescence.