The metonymic treatment of the Lisbon girls for some larger tapestry of childhood innocence or idealism seemed a bit too much for me, and Eugenides' reach for something like a dimmed-down Nabokovian effect in the vein of dark comedy and buoyant prose felt a little bit like a failure. Eugenides is a great prose writer, but I felt that at times his prose felt like it was trying to wear some other guy's clothes. As much as The Virgin Suicides
is a eugolgy for childhood innocence, it too is a paean to nostalgia. Told from the third-person-plural in a tone which flirts with journalistic distance and lockerroom gossip, the original approach to narration is perhaps the best quality of Eugenides' novel.
My main problem with The Virgin Suicides
is that it felt like it wasn't a success either as a plot-story, but also wasn't a deep character study. In fact, I felt that with the exception of a few cursory traits, the Lisbon girls were largely fungible for each other. They basically boiled down to Spice Girl categorization: Sporty sister, Smart sister, Slutty sister, Religious sister, etc. While many a novel has gotten away with this sort of characterization, they at least make up for it with a compelling plot. The Virgin Suicides
's plot really needed that in depth characterization, though. With suicide there needs to be some psychological depth, and frankly I felt that Eugenides failed in that regard. It is hard to support a novel completely on prose styling. It can be done, and to be sure Eugenides tries to handle some large ideas in The Virgin Suicides
: but his failure to successfully manage his own devices rather sullied the effect.
In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn't name.
As a novel, The Virgin Suicides
is a fun read, it is a relatively quick read, but it does not have endurance. Eugenides novel has failed to stay with me, and besides perhaps its uniquely dark humor, even some of its larger messages seem lost to me now, or better handled by others. I will grant him the difficulty of crafting a high-school novel aimed at adults, which certainly this novel is a successful example of, however as a novel which stands out for its own merits, I think The Virgin Suicides
falls somewhere in the middle. I liked it, I didn't love it. There were a great number of small successes, little victories and beautifully poignant passages, but there too were a great number of attempts at greatness which only just missed the bar, and I think that it is perhaps because Eugenides was aiming for the bars of someone else, rather than his own.