Die Selbstmord-SchwesternThis weekend I finished reading “The Virgin Suicides” (Die Selbstmord-Schwestern) by Jeffrey Eugenides. A strange and fascinating book! It’s not so much the story that is intriguing (we know from the very first page that the five sisters are going to commit suicide within one year), but the atmosphere that the author creates. The narrator — a man in his forties — remembers the year of the suicides, back in the seventies when he was just a teenager. Written in a report-like prose, full of dark humour and strange details, the novel pulls the reader right into a time when a world was falling apart not only for the young adolescents. I was fascinated by how Eugenides builds a scene of suburban America that is loosing its innocence as the boys are losing theirs while growing up. The suicides and the boys’ investigation of its reasons subsequently become a metaphor for more general changes and loss. Big politics are almost not mentioned, of course, the teenage boys are only interested (well, I’d say addicted to) in the girls of the Lisbon family. But after the first death, their neat Christian order is crumbling apart, like a domino once the first piece has fallen. The Lisbons are an exaggeration (they even seem to live in the fifties still), of course, but through the constant focus of the neighborhood’s boys they appear like focused in a lens. Though the language in the book is very rational, what sticks to my mind is this feeling of change: from childhood to adolescence (eventually the boys have become men), a stable world is breaking, most visible in the neighborhood and the Lisbon family, but affecting everyone’s lives. Glimpses on the boys twenty years later reveal what they have lost: their childhood, their friends and community, their dreams, their loves, their innocence — they are no ‘virgins’ anymore.

P.S. : It’s only revealed late in the book, the setting is a very American suburb of Detroit, actually Grosse Pointe, if that sounds familiar to anybody… And, by the way, the author has been living in Berlin since 1999.