Winter is the season of alcoholism and despair–The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

How timely that I am revisiting Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides a day after the Philippines celebrated World Suicide Prevention Day.

Eugenides greets us with Cecilia’s suicide attempt–gruesome and disturbing–which makes the first detail that we now about her character is, that, she wanted to end her life, and no, the reader, as well as the omniscient narrators were left clueless and groping for details. But before we tear our hairs, we find out that Cecilia survives her suicide attempt, we get that sliver of hope that we might know why she decided to end her life and we were introduced to the other four equally interesting Lisbon sisters, Lux, Bonnie, Mary, and Therese.

This was basically the story: The five Lisbon sisters, beautiful and at the peak of their adolescence, aged 13-17 respectively, who all decided to end their lives.

Their characters remind me strongly of the maiden character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The sibling who was just too beautiful and pure, that while she was drying their clothes, she just went up to heaven. Oh yes. I heard your mind was blown too. Among the dreamy characters in GGM’s award winning novels, she’s a favorite.

The Virgin Suicides  is a relatively short novel, but to some unknown and unrecognized reason, it actually took me more than a week to finish the novel. As you well know, the weather in my part of the world was what my Potter friends call Dementor weather. Dark skies greet you every morning, sucking that ounce of happiness in you. Oh yes, there was despair everywhere.

It was only nine o’clock, but everything confirmed what people had been saying: that since Cecilia’s suicide the Lisbons could hardly wait for night to forget themselves in sleep.

This could have been a factor. I mean, despite my said liking to sad and depressing novels, there was the conscious effort to steer away from depression triggers, or it could have been the language used that kind of needs a little getting used to, for a reader like me who, most of the time, prefers seeing conversations that bulk of paragraphs.

What makes this story interesting, that we could easily dismiss as tragic and then move on, was the voice that Eugenides used in narrating the story.

After Cecilia’s first attempt to kill herself, the reader gets hooked with the investigation the narrator started. There was the yearning to know more about the Lisbon sisters. And this desire intensifies after Cecilia finally succeeds in taking her life, which, was narrated beautifully. [I know it sounds evil to use beautiful and taking life in one sentence, but *lip quivers*]

 The wind sound huffed, once, and then the moist thud jotted us, the sound of the watermelon breaking open, and for that moment everyone remain still and composed, as though listening to an orchestra, heads tilted to allow the ears to work and no belief coming in yet. Then Mrs. Lisbon, as though alone, said, “Oh, my God.”

In this story, we were made voyeurs. There was an immense need to know more about the Lisbon sisters, to see them more, to be with them more. The overwhelming rage brought by hormones teenagers deal and accommodate. Hell, it was creepy, all right.

We were consumed by the raging hormones of our narrators, on the verge of frustration and disrespect. 

There was too much wanting in the narrators, and the reader could not help but feel accounted for in satisfying this craving, to the point of being dragged to the pits of guilt–of knowing much, but not enough to help the remaining Lisbon sisters, or rather, to stop the remaining four from killing themselves.

We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together.

Since we’re on the topic of hormones, oh yes, there was sex. Not too much sex happening, but there was lust and desire, it was creepy how Eugenides translated them.

In the trash can was one Tampax, spotted. Sissen said that he wanted to bring it to us, that it wasn’t gross but a beautiful thing, you had to see it, like a modern painting or something, then he told us he had counted twelve boxes of Tampax in the cupboard.

In Dr. Hornicker’s opinion, Lux’s promiscuity was a commonplace reaction to emotional need. “Adolescents tend to seek love where they can find it,” he wrote in one of the many articles he hoped to publish. “Lux confused the sexual act with love. For her, sex became a substitute for the comfort she needed as a result of her sister’s suicide.”

The lonely road of adolescence, wanting love and finding lust instead, or wanting love and having too much of it, that could have led to wanting own’s death. And how do obsessed male teenagers deal with the death of five rightfully happy and gorgeous teenagers? How does a peacefully, undisturbed village accept that one house is distraught and could plague the order they strive to keep?

There was guilt–consuming us to the point of self-destruction. We realize that our narrators, our story tellers are ghost of the five Lisbon sisters, and how everyone longs to escape the trauma and the seemingly contagious, addicting misery.

It’s no different with the girls. Hardly have we begun to participate their grief than we find ourselves considering whether this particular wound was mortal or not, or whether (in our blind doctoring) it’s a wound at all. It might just as well be a mouth, which is as wet and warm. The scar might be over the heart or the kneecap. We can’t tell. All we can do is groping up and the legs and arms, over the soft bivalvular torso, to the imagined face. It is speaking to us. But we can’t hear.

This may not be among my favorite sad novels. There was stress and guilt more than loneliness. There was the guilt of not participating in the society in the socially acceptable way, not by being creepy stalkers or by satisfying cravings in obsessive way, but by being present, and preferably being hopeful about life and stop entertaining thoughts of suicide.

Pardon the vanity. Say hello to the blogger’s face and to my favorite lines:

“There’s just memories now,” Chase Buell said sadly. “Time to write them off.” But ever as he uttered these words, he rebelled against them, as we all did.

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5 Responses to Winter is the season of alcoholism and despair–The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. ocknarf says:

    akala ko depressive and all, e bakit nakangiti ka?

  2. Armi says:

    Hi KJ!
    I didn’t mean to spoil the story to the other readers out there, but I just wanted to share that I had goosebumps when I read that scene where the boys discovered Bonnie’s (do I remember her name correctly?) body. I think Eugenides really knows how to conjure images with words.

    Alam mo, I think you’ll appreciate his other novel, Middlesex. It’s not as depressing as The Virgin Suicides, but Eugenides’ solid grasp of an adolescent mind is still present (if not, more vivid and defined) in that book. 🙂

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