Sweet dream, or a beautiful nightmare

22 10 2009

Well, kids, here it is: A practice review. I don’t really do this on a regular basis, so I figured I’d take the book I just read for my class (Films and Literature) and work on my mad reviewing skillz- try to work out a rhythm to it, if you know what I mean. Also, I have difficulty determining what, exactly, constitutes a spoiler; I’m trying to work that out here, as well, so if you’ve read the book, please let me know if you think it’s spoiler-y.

The Book: “The Virgin Suicides”, by Jeffrey Eugenides.

The story begins with the suicide of the youngest of the five Lisbon sisters, Cecilia, and works its way through the year following, culminating in the self-inflicted deaths of the other four. What the story really follows, though, is the efforts of the narrators (the story is told from a first-person-plural point of view) to get to know these four girls by every method possible- except, that is, by talking to them. The plural narrator is a (group of) teenage boy(s), and the girls are teenage girls; they don’t speak the same language. The story also revolves around the deterioration of the well-to-do suburban neighborhood where all these characters live. The Lisbon house itself is slowly falling apart, and Dutch Elm Disease is blamed for the public works department cutting down all the trees on the block.

The meat of the narrative, though, at least to my mind, is the obsession the narrator(s) have with the Lisbon sisters, and the way that living in suburbia creates expectations of people that they can’t live up to and can’t escape. Trip Fontaine, the popular hot jock guy, winds up in a rehab facility in the desert somewhere, as much a ghost as any of the Lisbons. The narrator(s) are rehashing this story from decades after the fact; they live out their lives, but are still infatuated by their ideas of the girls, and where (if anywhere) those ideas are in relation to reality, discussing it still, “going over the evidence one more time”. They are only ghosts as well, living in the past, trying to find what it was that was so brilliant and beautiful, and forever finding it just out of reach. Even the neighborhood itself is gradually declining into a ghost of its former self, doomed to be a mere reflection of what was, and what could have been.

The experience of reading this novel is lovely. I know some people have found it weird and/or depressing, but I found it more melancholy than dismal, and Eugenides’ imagery is just gorgeous. It kind of evokes the way everything is so dreamy and surreal and beautiful when you’re a kid, with no experience of “real” life to get in the way; everything looks as if it’s an old photograph, misty and faded with time, which adds to the themes of the book. The descriptive passages alone are worth the read. I think the subtext is beautifully layered, though there were a few instances where it ran away with itself into cliche territory, but overall I enjoyed reading it, and I recommend it.

Well, there you have it. My very first book review.. um, ever. I hope it makes sense, and isn’t too spoiler-y (or not spoiler-y enough). Until next time, Beav out!

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