There are some books that we read because someone recommended them to you. Or maybe because you read about them somewhere or you found them read by someone you know. And there are some that you pick out of curiosity. Many times they end up making you feel sorry for that moment of impulsiveness. But there are those rare occasions that the book that you picked out yourself, that you had never heard of earlier, might just be the one book that you needed then. It might turn out to be the one that you would revisit once in a while. You know what, it might be the one reason that you have not stopped picking random books, without hoping much from them.
This favorite book of mine to revisit time and again was found out of nowhere. I confess it is the name of the book that reeled me in. By now you might have guessed that the mere word ‘suicides‘ compelled me to read it. Well, there is not just one suicide, but five. What could stop me from devouring it, right? Well, it was not just what I expected at all, I should say that.
The Virgin Suicides could easily have been the story of five sisters Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16) and Therese (17) who succumbed to suicide. Yes, it spoke of possible depression, failure at a suicidal attempt, pretense at normality and everything that I have come to love about the genre. But it has more than just that.
The story talks about the fascination of the neighborhood boys, now adults, about the secluded and cloistered Lisbon sisters, who committed suicide all in the same year. For all the flaws of the sisters, the boys consider them perfect and worship them through their memory. They try to figure why they did what they did and how their deaths affected them and the entire neighborhood, even after so many years. Though the reason for their deaths remains unknown, the ghosts of the sisters haunt the boys as they rot with guilt that they remained mute voyeurs through their painful existence.
They go through their collected memorabilia and recollect faint memories of their teenage crushes, to relive those golden years. They seek out insights and experiences from other boys, teachers and their other neighbors to understand their childhood Goddesses’ lives under their strict mother and submissive father. The boys’ attempt to resolve the mystery seem to be the only thing that holds them together anymore. But as time passes, just like their ‘exhibits,’ their memory start to fail them, and the fact that they have to concentrate harder to invoke their nostalgia devastates them more than the suicides themselves.
The Virgin Suicides is not just about the girls or their suicides. It is more about the boys and their reminiscence of their adolescent infatuation and lust for their young neighbors. I felt that I was one among the boys, even though they are well into their middle ages in the story now – and my feelings towards the boys felt undiluted even during my second and third reads of the book. Their voyeuristic adventures from a tree house or the telephone conversations they had with the girls by playing songs or even the fateful school dance they had accompanied the girls to, may have been part of any coming of age novel, but for the melancholy tone that hangs as the reminder the imminent deaths.
I cannot say enough that I loved the writing, especially the unique protagonists. It is one of those books that the story doesn’t matter, as much as the prose. The prose oozes out with pensiveness and poignancy that would stick on to you much longer after you finish reading. The author makes the best use of metaphors and detailed descriptions to paint a vivid picture of the lovesick boys or the fate of the dying town. The Virgin Suicides talks about the loss of the lives of the Lisbon girls, by not talking about them at all. It tells what happens to us after the great loss, after the momentous despair – an abominable lull in whatever life that remains thereafter.
The Virgin Suicides is a must-read for anyone who reads for the love of the language and is not afraid to reach out for the dictionary when things get tough. You would either hate it and call it pretentious or add it to your favorites – there is no in between.