Friday, January 6, 2012

Grosse Pointe Lock Down

Many years ago, I saw the movie "The Virgin Suicides", and I have thought back to it from time to time.  Completely unrelated, I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Middlesex is the novel of a hermaphrodite living in an affluent Detroit suburb immediately after the race riots of 1967.  Middlesex was an interesting novel which appealed to a wide enough audience to warrant its receiving a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.  As a metro-Detroiter it had a special appeal, because although my parents had told me about the riots, I knew only their stories, which didn't include tanks patrolling streets which are now familiar to me, or other episodes which Eugenides related. 

More recently, when I was looking for a book for my son, Amazon recommended The Virgin Suicides.  This was the first that I realized that TVS was written by Eugenides.  In reading the review I learned that the story was set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, an area that is only about a half of an hour's drive from my house.  This piqued my interest, and I added TVS to my TBR list, in part to see if it would be suitable for my son to read.

TVS is a great story, and a very quick read.  It is the story of the five Lisbon sisters, who are teenage girls trying their best to be normal.  The Lisbon parents are very sheltering, and control what the girls wear and what they do.  The girls, in part because of the number of them, are something of a mystery to their peers. They don't seem to have many girlfriends, but the boys are all enthralled.  Very early into the story, one of the girls commits suicide.  This, along with some minor infractions on the part of the most popular sister, Lux, causes the parents to pull the sisters out of school, and lock them down within their house. 

The story is told from the point of view of neighborhood boys who are infatuated with the girls.  At times the boys are the same age as the girls, and at times the boys are older, and are reporting what happened in a documentary style, with details from interviews and exhibits.  Like Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, TVS is narrated in first person plural (ex: "we spied on the girls through binoculars"), and it is never clear exactly which boy is speaking.  This is a very welcoming form of narration, making the reader feel as though friends are filling him in on what happened while he was away, and what they have discovered in their research. In fact, it is clear from internet searches that many readers, like me, thought that the story must have been based on true events, which it was not.  This is a credit to Eugenides' writing and creativity.

Now that I have read the book, I would like to see the Virgin Suicides movie again.  The first time through, I didn't know that the story was supposed to have been set in my area.  Now I know to look for familiar settings and listen for street names.  Although I'm not in any rush to encourage my 8th grade son to read TVS, I think that it is probably a book that would be appropriate for a high school student.

TVS was also the first book that I read on my kindle.  For the last year or so I have been annoyed countless times when I've asked my friends what page they are on, and they answer that they don't know the page, but they are 68% (or some other random percentage) done.  I thought that I would stay loyal to page numbers, even when reading electronically.  However, I have to say that the percentages are addictive.  I don't want to be 28% done - 28% is failing!  I kept on reading to increase my GPA by a few extra percentage points.  I don't have that issue with page numbers.  The kindle was convenient, and I didn't miss turning pages.  I could get used to this.

One down for my Off the Shelf Challenge!  23 to go . . .

Next up:  State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Still Listening to:  Empire Falls by Richard Russo

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