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The Virgin Suicides - Recorded Book, Novel, & Soundtrack Review
The story is one of seduction, fascination, voyeurism, and myth, and addresses both the strange nature of being young as well as the way we regard beauty, decay, and sex within American culture.
Thoughts on the Book
Between the descriptions of yellow eyes, eyes turning black with death, dorsal softness, blackened bottoms of unwashed feet, crusty eyes, "fructifying flesh," spotted tampons, "blue febrile eyes," and the "effluvia of so many young girls becoming women in the same cramped space," I found myself half wanting to vomit and half wanting to read more.
Indeed, the novel is brimming with disturbing imagery, yet the interesting thing is it is presented in an incredibly compelling, seductive manner. In fact, the saturated, in-depth descriptions are what make The Virgin Suicides so powerful. Reading this book is like watching a slow motion train wreck through a rose-colored microscope.
The detail is another compelling aspect of The Virgin Suicides. Acting as an odd combination of investigatory journalist, stalker, and religious historian, the narrator(s) are able to provide information that no single traditional source could offer. Artifacts belonging to the Lisbon girls are curated and preserved in an old tree house and amongst the quasi-priest-narrators, hospital records and psychiatric reports have been uncovered, press stories have been clipped, countless individuals have been interviewed, and the personal memories of the narrators themselves are described at length. It is ridiculous to imagine that so much attention would be given to these girls, but the diversity of information presented in the book and in its supplementary exhibits deepens readers' comprehension of the obsession surrounding the suicidal teens.
There are also interesting motifs, or at least certain objects and themes, that are referred to over and over. Fish flies, for example, play a prominent role in the story, as do laminated pictures of the Virgin Mary, dying elm trees, and suburban decay. These motifs add depth and a sense of inevitability to the story, as they are inherently associated with the Lisbon Girls and their destiny (or so the narration makes it seem).
The Lisbon Girls are at once victims, goddesses, ghosts, sirens, sex symbols, and everyday teenage girls. I have never read anyone described as Jeffrey Eugenides described these strange heroines.
The Recorded Book
Thoughts on the Recorded Book (and Film Score)
It does not matter that the limited voices Nick Landrum assumes for dialogue are lacking because most of The Virgin Suicides is narration anyway- and Landrum is absolutely stellar in that respect. He even sings at one point in the book, and brilliantly captures the melancholic, ephemeral undertones that make the writing tick.
The recorded book provides no extra sounds effects or music (few do, but it is something to consider), but none are really needed. The only sound effect that would seem appropriate to me might be, at some point, the haunting sound of thousands of fish flies, swarming.
If you absolutely must have some musical accompaniment to listen to as you are either reading or listening to this book, listen to the original score by Air from the 1999 Sophia Coppola film. It perfectly distills the feel of this story in musical form, and has a nice mixture of original soundtrack music and movie/novel quotes, and kicks off with "Playground Love" which has to be the sexiest song of all time.
If you’re listening to the recorded book on CD burned to your iPod, I recommend putting the tracks into a playlist, and interspersing them with songs from the soundtrack. I did just that and it really set the mood.
One more note on the recorded book: Though for the most part, I think the recording offers an equivalent- if not superior- experience, however readers of the recorded book do miss out on one very important aspect of the book: the exhibits referred to throughout the text.
Is it Worth Reading?
One does not read The Virgin Suicides to find out what happens (that is pretty apparent) but rather to experience something rich and vivid. Through his saturated descriptions, Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the most elusive glimpses of youth, obsession, and wonderment that most people rarely experience- or have long forgotten. To be so transported by a book is an exquisite experience- one I would heartily recommend.