The events of The Virgin Suicides could be summarised in one short swoop: five sisters kill themselves. The boys who root in vain through the evidence they have assembled are like characters from an antiquated detective novel stuck mercilessly in a postmodern literary world, where there are no certainties and little happiness. The novel is not concerned with providing answers, and not primarily with plot. The book meanders sometimes indulgently, but mostly with inspired images of suburban suffocation, from the fishflies that swarm the town to the name of the boy Lux Lisbon writes on her underwear but are then washed out by her mother.
The pangs of teenage longing are exquisitely portrayed in conjunction with the nostalgia of middle age. Indeed, Euenides has described The Virgin Suicides as "almost one long longing" (Powell’s Books: 25 October 2002). The powerful contrast between Trip Fontaine as an adolescent hunk with brimming promise and his resurfacing as a shell of a man in a detox facility is a damning comment on the American dream, while Mrs. Lisbon’s lack of self-awareness even decades later bravely denies a neat denouement.
The Virgin Suicides is perhaps overreaching in its adoption of the plural pronoun ‘we’ to narrate. This voice can sometimes sound strained, and the framing device of the collection the boys have built up becomes frustrating as the reader fails to discover for what the purpose the ’evidence’ exists. Without the intervening black humour, the boys’ near-fetishism towards the girls has the potential to be even darker than the suicides.
The Virgin Suicides is a remarkable as a debut novel, and also as a precursor to Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex, published in 2002. The decline of Detroit, which is on the periphery of The Virgin Suicides, is explored more fully in the later novel. The character of Old Mrs. Karafilis points to Middlesex’s concern with the tracing of a family’s journey from Asia Minor to the United States.
"The book is as light as air, and as dense; it is also quietly, slyly funny, despite its melancholy subject." - John Banville, The Observer
"Eugenides' assured mixture of heartfelt nostalgia - suburban life has seldom been recalled so lovingly - and dark humour makes for a mesmerising read."- Peter Guttridge, The Independent
"The Virgin Suicides insinuates itself into our minds as a small but powerful opera in the unexpected form of a novel" - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Eugenides is one of those rare writers who can manage sympathy and detachment simultaneously - and work small wonders with words while he's at it." - David Gates, Newsweek
"One of its most pleasing attributes is that despite the postmodern pyrotechnics, the book is deeply felt, lushly written, even heartrending." - Michael Griffith, Southern Review