Chapter 3, continued
By October, the Lisbon household appears less cheerful. No one leaves the house except to go to church or to school. Groceries are delivered once a week, but the Lisbons' leaves remain unraked. The shabbiness of the house begins to attract attention, reminding the neighborhood of the family's decay. Previously, Cecilia's suicide had attracted no media attention, as the suburban papers were discrete and the city papers were not interested. But on October 15, an anonymous letter in the local newspaper calls for the school to address teenager anxiety. Shortly thereafter, a local reporter publishes a detailed human- interest account of Cecilia's suicide. Also, a local television station interviews teenagers who regret their attempts at suicide, and pamphlets are mailed out giving general suicide statistics.
Meanwhile, the Lisbon girls keep to themselves at school, and other students assume that they want to be left alone. In a belated response to Cecilia's death, the high school holds a Day of Grieving, but no one wants to broach the subject of the suicide. The teachers simply discuss tragedy in very broad terms while the Lisbon sisters wait out the day in the bathroom. The school also hires a social worker, Miss Kilsem, in whom the girls are thought to have confided. No one knows for sure if Miss Kelsem knew anything, because she disappears after her degree is discovered to be false and her records are destroyed in a freak fire. Nonetheless, the girls seem to be in better spirits. Lux obtains a small part in the school play, while her sisters make friends and seem to be recovering.
Trip Fontaine convinces Mr. Lisbon to persuade Mrs. Lisbon, the family authority, to allow him to take Lux to Homecoming, provided he finds dates for the other girls and that they all return home by 11 P.M. Mr. Lisbon, as chaperone, ensures that the couples only go to the dance. On the night of Homecoming, the boys drive together up to the Lisbon house. Lux, waiting on the porch, rings her doorbell to warn the other girls, and then rushes inside.
As the boys enter the house, the girls appear in shapeless homemade dresses, with their hair overly teased. Once they are in the car on the way to the dance, the girls begin to talk and gossip. The boys realize that the Lisbon sisters are actually perfectly normal. At the dance, the girls make seven trips to the bathroom, but otherwise dance, talk, and flirt with the adoring boys. Trip and Lux, followed by Joe and Bonnie, sneak under the bleachers to drink peach schnapps and make out, before emerging again to dance. Everyone applauds when Trip and Lux are voted Homecoming King and Queen. Mary tells one boy that she is having the best time of her life.
After the dance, Trip and Lux are nowhere to be found. The other three couples wait until 10:50 P.M. before driving home. Lux does not arrive home until well after midnight. Years later, Trip will explain to the boys that he persuaded Lux to sneak out of the dance and out onto the football field, where they made love on the goal line. Then Trip abandoned her to walk home. Despite Trip's feelings for Lux, he will explain to the boys that at that particular moment he just got sick of her.
At 1:30 A.M. on Homecoming night, the boys, still heady from their date, decide to drive past the Lisbon house once more. They see a single light in the bedroom window. A shade is pulled back, and then the light goes out. The boys realize, deep down, that something has just gone very wrong.
The media's responses to Cecilia's death seems no more relevant to the tragedy than the preceding months of silence. Whereas the confessional television program sensationalizes suicide, the informative pamphlets diffuse its threat in simply numbers and statistics. Neither effectively inquires into the causes of suicide, choosing only to describe suicide characteristics as if they were a hurricane or other inevitable disasters. Likewise, the high school's Day of Grieving deals only with tragedy in the broadest of terms, speaking of hardship and pain, but avoids any mention of suicide. What these events demonstrate is that the community's public response to the suicide has nothing to do with helping the Lisbon girls, but instead is a way of allowing the community to symbolically alleviate its guilt. The caricatured Day of Grieving illustrates the hypocrisy of suburban ideals of propriety and ceremony at the expense of substance. Ironically, the Day's organizers consider it to be a great success, despite its failure to address Cecilia's suicide and despite the Lisbon girls' failure to attend. After all, it was not until the Lisbon house began to physically decay, interrupting the neighborhood's navel-gazing with its constant visual reminder of the family's plight that the community felt it had to respond at all. Had the Lisbons kept up decorum and confined their despair to the house's interior, the community might never have noticed their plight.
Lux's brief appearance on the family porch as the boys arrive to pick up the Lisbon girls for Homecoming is a crucial indication of her role as a lookout, and as an intermediary between her sisters and the outside world. Throughout the book, it is Lux who speaks to boys in the hallway, who appears as the most desirable sister, who will become the most sexually adventurous, and whose relationship with Trip is responsible for the girls even going to Homecoming. Lux, or "light" in Latin, appears as a kind of beacon. Lux travels back and forth between the feminine and masculine worlds through the only means available, that of desire. She is the quintessential siren, a creature of liminal places: doorways, thresholds, porches, and windows. Lux's role is simultaneously one of solicitor and gatekeeper, drawing the boys in, while also ensuring that they only enter on the girls' terms. When the boys arrive on Homecoming night, she rings her own doorbell to warn her sisters, giving them a few precious minutes of preparation. A striking twist on this scene will occur at the end of Chapter Four, when lookout Lux stalls the boys to give her sisters time to die.
The horror and tragedy of the surrounding chapters relies heavily on the innocence, giddiness and normalcy of Homecoming night—the girls' first and last chance at happiness. The boys' arrival en masse at the Lisbon house echoes their arrival at Cecilia's party in Chapter One, and foreshadows their arrival to rescue the girls in Chapter Four, both trips that end in suicide. Homecoming is haunted by these tragedies and framed by them, suggesting that the girls could have lived merrily ever after. The reader waits, darkly, for something to go wrong here too. Furthermore, the girls' sudden metamorphosis, from weird recluses into belles of the ball, suggests the deeply transformative power of environment. Though they appear awkward and oddly dressed in the house, the girls begin to relax in the car, and by their arrival at the dance, become chatty and desirable. The change implies that the sisters' abnormal behavior is directly tied to the Lisbon house, whose influence can be escaped by physically leaving the environment. This notion contradicts the neighborhood's idea that the girls are chronically weird or inevitable victims. It also suggests that once the girls are confined to the house, in Chapter Four, their fate is in some sense sealed. Finally, the detrimental effects of the girls' local environment hint at the overwhelming influence of the suburban environment at large in influencing the novel's events. The novel's characters are constantly in suburbia, but will remain oblivious to its influence. On the other hand, our privileged position outside the bounds of the neighborhood and the narrative allows us to see how deeply suburbia shapes its human inhabitants.
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