The youngest of the Lisbon girls. Cecilia, age thirteen, is mystical, precocious, shy, and known even by her older sisters as the weird one of the family. She habitually wears an ill-fitting vintage 1920s wedding gown, stained and cut short. She bites her nails, invokes the Virgin Mary, and spends hours listening to wailing Celtic music that she has ordered by mail. In her meticulous diary entries, discovered after her death, Cecilia is remarkably unself-conscious, tending to speak of her sisters and herself as a single entity. In her first suicide attempt she slits her wrists during one of her marathon baths, and begins the Lisbon cycle of tragedies. Her second, successful suicide attempt cements the cycle when she jumps onto a spiked fence. At the time of her suicide, she has just begun to menstruate.
The second youngest of the Lisbon girls. Beautiful, sexy, slim, mischievous, adventurous, and eventually promiscuous, Lux, age fourteen, epitomizes all that the boys desire about the Lisbon girls. She is a secret smoker since the age of twelve, and is seen laughing with delinquent boys and getting rides on motorcycles long before she begins her campaign of sex on the Lisbon roof. Though smoking and having sex outdoors in winter hint at a self-destructive streak, Lux appears to act clearly and deliberately, leaving the boys to wonder about her real plans. The only person who seems to catch Lux off-guard is Trip Fontaine, her masculine foil, in the final moments of Homecoming. Lux's adventures have wildly varying consequences for her sisters' lives. It is out of love for Lux that Trip persuades the Lisbon parents to let the girls attend the dance, affording them several exquisite hours of happiness. But it is also Lux's subsequent failure to make curfew that results in the sisters' confinement to the house for most of the winter, with disastrous consequences. Lux dies on the night of June fifteen from carbon monoxide poisoning.
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The middle child in the Lisbon family. Bonnie, age fifteen, has a sallow complexionedand is a foot taller than any of her sisters, with a sharp nose and long neck. She is quiet, docile, skittish, and exceptionally pious. As the Lisbon house declines, she begins appearing on the porch before dawn, thinner each day, to recite the rosary. She hangs herself and dies on the night of June fifteen.
The second oldest of the Lisbon girls. Mary Lisbon, age sixteen, is prim, proper, poised, and spends hours in front of the mirror. Her hair is the darkest of the sisters, and she has a slight mustache and a widow's peak. As the house decays, she attempts to maintain her appearance, and wears bright sweaters to collect the mail. After her unsuccessful suicide attempt on the night of June fifteen, Mary spends a month sleeping and obsessively showering while the community faithfully awaits her death. She dies in July by taking sleeping pills.
The oldest of the Lisbon girls. Therese Lisbon, age seventeen, is intellectual, studious, and fascinated by science. She reads textbooks, grows seahorses, attends science conventions, uses a ham radio, and aspires to attend an Ivy League college. Physically, she is more awkward than her sisters, and is described as having a heavy face, the cheeks and eyes of a cow, and two left feet. She will die on the night of June fifteen from a combination of sleeping pills and gin.
The father of the Lisbon family. A thin, effeminate, retiring man with a high, boyish voice, Mr. Lisbon teaches math at the local high school, for which his daughters receive free tuition. He has been a teacher for as long as anyone can remember, and he seems to enjoy his job and to throw himself into his work. Although he loves his daughters, he finds them to be complete strangers. Despite his accommodating nature, he often feels lost amid the flurry of femininity at home, humiliated by being sent on endless trips to the drugstore for Tampax. Mr. Lisbon is completely cowed by his domineering wife, deferring to her decisions almost automatically. He is unable to even try to challenge her opinion or change her mind. As the novel's tragedy unfolds, Mr. Lisbon withdraws further into his private world—he eats lunch in his classroom alone at school, he watches baseball obsessively, and after Homecoming he seems unaware of his wife's decision to keep the girls at home, as his tenuous hold on reality begins to slip.
The mother of the Lisbon family. Mrs. Lisbon, a vehement, forceful matriarch, is the de facto head of the Lisbon household. Heavy and commandeering, with steel- wool hair and glasses, she bears little resemblance to her five lovely daughters, leaving the boys to wonder how she could have produced them. She rules the house with an iron fist, strictly supervising the girls' comings and goings, television watching, and church attendance. She is insistently Catholic, and many of her rules for the girls—no makeup, no even slightly revealing clothes, and ultimately no rock music—reflect her brand of piety. Mrs. Lisbon reacts strongly to cracks in her totalitarian regime, responding to Lux's breaking curfew on Homecoming by withdrawing the girls from school entirely and locking them in the house "to recover." She is permanently suspicious of the outside world, with a firm belief that girls are best and happiest at home under a mother's watchful eye. Despite her forcefully maternal rhetoric, however, Mrs. Lisbon seems progressively uninterested or unable to attend to the physical welfare of her daughters, taking to her bed for weeks after Cecilia's death. Her housekeeping, fully average as the novel begins, rapidly disintegrates after the first suicide, as the house becomes a jungle of open cans, half-eaten food, mail-order catalogs, and dust.
The high school stud. Trip emerges from an unspectacular childhood to become the handsomest boy in high school. Fully aware of his masculine power, Trip takes great care of his appearance, entrance, clothing, and hair. He swaggers down the hall and suns himself daily in the family pool. Trip cares little for school, and instead takes regular trips to his car to smoke marijuana and run a minor drug business on the side. Female admirers, who swoon at his every move and climb willingly into his bed, continually surround him. His recurrent erotic success is assured by his intuitive, gentlemanly discretion, which never allows him to reveal the details of his conquests. When Trip meets Lux and falls overwhelmingly in love, Trip has no idea how to pursue her, having always been the one pursued. Though he interacts with the neighborhood boys, Trip is not one of them, and is not part of the novel's narrative voice.
The narrators of the novel. "The neighborhood boys" are an indistinct group, comprising a number of boys mentioned in the narrative, but not necessarily limited to those mentioned. During the events described in the novel, they are in high school, live in the same suburb as the Lisbons, and have always been fascinated by the Lisbon girls. They look back on the suicides from middle age, where they are still deeply haunted by the girls' deaths. They narrate the story as a way of making sense of the girls' actions, motives, and desires over the course of their final year of life.
The first boy to set foot inside the Lisbon house. Peter Sissen is invited to dinner for helping Mr. Lisbon install a model of the solar system in his high- school math classroom. For months thereafter, Peter regales the boys with his eyewitness account of the Lisbon house and its feminine secrets. His search of the bathroom reveals that at least one girl has begun her period, and he is able to steal Lux's bra from its provocative perch on a crucifix.
One of the high school boys. Even at fourteen, Paul Baldino's gut, tall tales, gold rings, sleek black shoes, and intimidating presence leave no doubt that he is the son of Sammy "The Shark" Baldino, a suspected local gangster. While the boys rarely believe Paul's elaborate tales, he commands their uniform fear and respect. It is Paul who, exploring storm sewers, comes up into the Lisbon house and discovers Cecilia in the bathtub bleeding from her wrists.
The practical joker. Joe makes farting noises at school assemblies, he nonetheless wins all the school prizes. Trip chooses him as part of the Homecoming coalition in hopes that his academic successes will impress Mr. Lisbon. Conley's signature act, done on the way to Homecoming, is to stick his finger into Lux's smoke ring so as not to let it "die a virgin." On Homecoming, he is paired with Bonnie.
Son of a Christian Scientist. Chase worries about and prays for the Lisbon girls' salvation, and is sometimes seen with his eyes closed and his lips moving as the girls walk by. He appears as a decent, hardworking boy, raised by his religious father to go the extra mile. He helps neighbors and sweeps bugs from the Lisbon house to save the girls the trouble.
Mary's Homecoming date. A comparatively rich, usually proper boy, Parkie is notable for his occasional access to his father's yellow Cadillac, in which he, Trip, Kevin and Chase take the Lisbon girls to Homecoming.
Therese's Homecoming date. A source of continual speculation about the girlsand actively involved in finding out more about them, Kevin is the epitome of a typical suburban boy—he plays football and helps Trip tune up his car.
The neighborhood brain. Tim is overly smart and physically weak. When the boys need plots, insight, codes, anatomical remarks on fish flies, or handwriting analysis, they turn to Tim.
A particularly shy boy. Tom Nonetheless, Tom finds the courage to enter the Lisbon house on the night of June 15th, as the other boys stand paralyzed by the vision of Lux in the living room.
A neighborhood boy. Joe's most remarkable characteristic is that his house is directly across from the Lisbons', and is thus a regular place of gathering for the other boys eager to see what the girls are doing.
A polite Polish boy. Valentine lives in a mansion a block away from the Lisbon's house, from which bats fly out of the chimney each evening. He is the only one who remembers to shout thank you to the Lisbons as the boys flee Cecilia's party.
The hospital psychiatrist. Dr. Hornicker is responsible for dealing with the Lisbon cases. After extensively testing Cecilia, he concludes that her first suicide attempt was a cry for help, and suggests she be given more social outlets. Upon her death and the family's subsequent disintegration, he begins to revise his hypothesis, diagnosing the surviving sisters with post-traumatic stress syndrome and warning of the high incidence of repetitive suicide in individual families. Dr. Hornicker is a respected local authority. The community, who seeks a scientific or medical rationalization for the tragedy, eagerly receive all of his diagnoses of the girls. Although his diagnoses and recommendations seem relevant and humane, if somewhat benign, they cannot stand up to Mrs. Lisbon's opinion nor be implemented without her consent, and thus are of little actual use to the girls.
Two men who drive the community's emergency vehicle. One is tall and thin with oily hair, the other is fat and lame with sensitive skin and razor bumps. They inevitably drive over the Lisbons' lawn, and seem to be moving much more slowly than they should. Their characteristics become more familiar to the boys with each of the five arrivals of the EMS truck at the Lisbon house.
The Greek grandmother of Demo Karafilis, one of the neighborhood boys. She survived the Turkish massacre of her village as a young woman and hid in a cave for a month eating olive pits. She now spends her days in the semi-darkness of the Karafilis basement, remembering Asia Minor. She waits to die, uninterested in all self-important suburban dramas except for the plight of the Lisbon sisters, which saddens her but does not seem to surprise her. The boys suspect that she and the girls secretly communicate, sharing the same deep knowledge of the world's pain and reading the same signs of tragedy in the clouds.
An overly suave Italian boy of romantic temperament. Dominic lives with his relatives in the neighborhood. He hespeaks little English but is desperately in love with local rich girl Diana Porter. To prove his love, and his despair at her leaving for vacation, he jumps from the roof of his relatives' house, emerging unharmed and satisfied. Shortly thereafter, his family calls him to New Mexico. Neighborhood speculation suggests, probably wrongly, that his jump inspired Cecilia's own.
A social worker. Miss Kilsen was hired by the high school after Cecilia's death and she is thought to be the only person in whom the Lisbon girls confided. However, there is no way of knowing for sure, as Miss Kilsen disappeared after her credentials were discovered to be false, and the patient records she had kept were later destroyed in a freak fire.
The local Catholic priest. Father Moody is a sympathetic, if minor, character who visits the Lisbon house after Cecilia's death, and pronounces the sisters "buffeted but not broken."