Monday, August 29, 2011

Thoughts: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

I’ve never truly made up my mind about the term ‘modern classic.’ For me, classics are books that have stood the test of time, so that’s the main reason why I view the term with a bit of suspicion. Books like The Book Thief and Atonement, however, force me to reexamine my views.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is one of those books commonly touted as a modern classic. Told from the point-of-view of an unnamed narrator, the book chronicles the lives of the Lisbon girls, without actually going inside the Lisbon girls’ heads. The story is pieced together from neighbors’ testimonials, diary entries, notes, and other jagged fragments of the Lisbon girls’ lives.

To be honest, I still haven’t made up my mind if this book is a ‘modern classic’ or not. It certainly seems to have all the requirements for a ‘modern classic.’ The sense of tragedy pervading the almost-mythical Lisbon girls? Check. The excellent use of magic realism? Check. I just feel like I’m way out of my league on this one, because I don’t have that many literary fiction titles under my belt.

I was very impressed by the prose. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Jeffrey Eugenides makes writing good fiction look easy. His writing swings effortlessly from a normal teenage boy’s observations to stark poetry that’s heartbreakingly beautiful. There are so many little details in the book that I absolutely loved, like the fingerprints in a tub of Vicks or the way the Lisbon girls sit Indian-style on a seesaw.

The Virgin Suicides feels like one of those novels I should love, but don’t. In fact, it took me over two months to finish this book, and, by the time I reached the final chapter, I just wanted to get things over with. I’m pretty sure it’s just me, though, since I don’t have a very good relationship with literary fiction.

Rating: 3/5

14 comments:

Ellen said...

I remember this book feeling somehow "flat" when I read it...like you say, the prose is admirable, there are certain images that I loved, but I never got to a point of caring about the characters, what happened to them, why it happened. I fell in love with Middlesex, though; have you read that one? I think that it, far more that the virgin suicides, deserves the label "modern classic" (whatever that is).

Sam said...

I'm going against majority opinion with this one, but I loved this book and think it's better than 'Middlesex'. I loved how Eugenides writing makes you feel the atmosphere and dreaminess of the story.

Middlesex is probably more of a modern classic though, and it is an epic too. It's worth a read.

Zibilee said...

I have never read this book, but have read Middlesex, and thought it was very good. I did see the movie, but it sounds like the book was a lot tougher to digest. I will have to rethink reading this one, but I do appreciate your honest and thoughtful review.

theeclecticreader said...

I'm sorry you didn't love this one.

Laura said...

I had a similar reaction to this book: all the ingredients for a "Yes! Yummy, fantastic book" experience were there, but I actively disliked it. I do have grumpy relationship with fiction that depresses without uplifting in at least some way, however, and that certainly would have influenced by opinion of The Virgin Suicides.

My new favorite "modern classic" is The Time-Traveler's Wife, which I somehow only just recently got around to reading.

Ben said...

Josie plowed through this one in about three days. I never read it myself, but I enjoyed the hell out of the Sofia Coppola movie adaptation.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

It's definitely not just you. I tend to love literary fiction and this one just didn't work for me. Like you said, his writing is beautiful, but I just felt so distant from everything. I would highly recommend Middlesex though. It has everything that this one was missing.

Audra said...

It's been...nearly a decade since I've read this, so my memory is very fuzzy, but I recall liking it enough to finish but not wanting a reread. I'm not sure I'd call it a modern classic (I think his Middlesex might be moreso that TVS).

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I had a similar feeling at the end too. Loved it, but somehow felt a bit down at the end. I think that its just thats its such a depressing story and you are left with so little information about what the Lisbon girls were really thinking.

I actually think that a book that plays on your emotions like that is a really good book.

Jessica said...

I felt very flat after reading Middlesex, there was nothing wrong with it exactly but something was missing for me. I always intended to read this one in order to give the author another go. The film is excellent.

petekarnas said...

This is exactly how I felt when reading this. It was pretty and well written and deep. But, in the end, I just couldn't care about anyone in the story. Middlesex, on the other hand...Genius. Good post!

reviewsbylola said...

It is hard for me to determine my true feelings for this book because I actually saw the movie adaption first. It is one of my favorite movies of all time and it helped bring the book alive for me.

Teacher/Learner said...

That's an interesting point about the term "modern classics." I think any highly praised/loved/ book written in the last half of the 20th century counts or a contemporary book that most people feel has the potential for becoming a classic. I haven't read this yet but the movie was different, albeit a bit creepy. I agree with Melissa--try Middlesex. It's quite a story.

Emma said...

I loved Middlesex, though it wasn't a necessarily HAPPY story. It was, however, intelligent and well written and at most times, captivating. I think a lot of Literary Fiction books are like that. The genre that perhaps captures the balance of happiness and drama and heartbreak the best. One aspect at least.

I'm glad I found this review. I generally like books that are mixed-media, which is what I got from what you've written here. Books like The Gurenesy Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (a series of letters), Ella Minnow Pea (also a correspondence), and The Penelopiad (a novella with poetry and scenes from plays thrown in between every micro chapter) I have really enjoyed reading. I think someday I may have to pick up The Virgin Suicides, sometime when I feel like reading something well written but not necessarily fulfilling.

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