Literary Inspiration: The Virgin Suicides


At the end of last year as part of my annual assessment of greatness (doesn’t that sound like something George’s dad would come up with on Seinfeld?) it came to my attention that despite quantitatively reading more than I ever have before, I read just two novels in 2016.  Otherwise, the bulk of my reading was online – my blog, other people’s blogs, and so much infuriating on-the-fly political news, my blood pressure practically demands that I return to the comforting paper (or electronic) embrace of a real novel.

And so I’ve been following along with a casual reading challenge created by my friend Julie of The Redolent Mermaid in an effort to not only read more, but read better.  Also grammar gooder. 😉 And because there’s nothing I love more than making life difficult for myself, I’ve added two sub-challenges to the main thread:

1. Where possible, all selections will be made from my own bookcase.  Despite being an avid lifelong reader, I actually fell out of favour with reading as a pastime some years back – that’s not a recent development.  As such, I have a serious backlog of gifts, loaners and hopeful recommendations that require my attention, if only to finally be able to say, “I read that!”

2. To keep it relevant to my blog, I have to do a manicure inspired by whatever I’m reading at the time.


Which presents a bit of a challenge (within the challenge’s challenge) when the first book you pick to fulfill the theme of a beloved or favourite novel is The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.  The entire depressing story is right there in the title – how exactly do I draw nail art inspiration from that?  Carefully, very carefully, and respectfully, being mindful of the overall feeling the book inspires in me as opposed to a strict adherence to its events. Which, absent any context or enjoyment derived from Eugenides paying out the story, are just so, so bleak.

If you watched the 1999 Sofia Coppola movie starring Kirsten Dunst, you’re already familiar with the story and tone of The Virgin Suicides.  The film is faithful to both, chronicling the year in 1970s Grosse Pointe, Michigan over which all five teenage Lisbon girls – Cecilia, Mary, Therese, Bonnie and Lux – take their lives.  The story is told from the perspective of a group of neighbourhood boys whose trainwreck-like obsession with the girls stretches into adulthood, upon which they reconvene one last time for a final forensic analysis of a shattered family, a decaying neighbourhood, the girls’ inexplicable deaths and, indeed, their own passing lives.  Really lightweight stuff!

I think Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of the novel is about as perfect as one can be, particularly that feeling of floating about inside a hazy, pastel-hued cloud.  But in both the film and the novel, there’s nasty little moldy bits creeping in along the edges of all that cotton candy fluff – cracks in the rose-coloured glasses that have let in the rot.  In the book more so than the movie, this is represented by the Lisbon family home, a staid suburban structure whose internal and external disrepair mirrors its residents’ rapidly decaying mental states.  And as the Lisbons incrementally retreat from their friends, their neighbours, the world, the family home, once a bustling hub of shimmery teenage girl activity, becomes a stale, airless crypt housing little more than living ghosts and their moss-covered memories of what can never again be.


Super uplifting. 😉  And I can’t really explain why it’s my favourite book 20 years running, except that it just is. The weird heart wants what the weird heart wants, I suppose.  I just hope I did it right with my interpretation of the book’s tone, that feeling of life’s bright spark being born under by decay.  Let’s leave it on that cheery note!

22 thoughts on “Literary Inspiration: The Virgin Suicides

  1. I love it: “Annual assessment of greatness”! What does that entail?
    I’m in the same boat as you – I read mostly online blogs, news, and reddit, instead of books. I just can’t commit to fictional novels for fear of disliking them… isn’t that terrible? No risk, no gains… and all that. 😛
    I have not read or watched The Virgin Suicides because I do not need deeply depressing stories in my life! 😮
    But if I had read the book, I would understand your mani to its full extent…

    • Ha, the Annual Assessment of Greatness – I think it should have a special meal associated with it, don’t you? Like, “Oh, I’d love to go out for coffee, but I’ve got to stay home and do all the prep for the Annual Assessment of Greatness Eve dinner.” Hmm, seems like a bit of an unwieldy statement!

      And it’s hella depressing, so I can’t blame you for abstaining. But there’s a kind of prettiness and softness to it that keeps it from being a total shit show of HORRIBLE FEELINGS, which is a truly remarkable feat of writing. Eugenides is the real deal, man.

    • Oh my gosh, yes, please do! I’d go the book first, movie second, although they are so very, very similar tonally and in terms of how they pay out the story.

      But I’m always hesitant to recommend a favourite book – especially one about a hot button topic like suicide – because reading preferences are such personal things, and what revs my engine might cause yours to completely vapour lock. I was actually just talking about that with Jay – she said she loathed The Virgin Suicides, which hurts my heart, but I get it.

      It’s just such a horribly pretty book. Emphasis on the horrible. And the final paragraph is the most perfect thing ever committed to print. Just thinking about it makes me want to hug myself.

  2. Excellent post, well written and interesting! I love Sofia Coppola’s movies, and I’ve read other stuff from Eugenides, but not yet Virgin Suicides.

    And combining books and nails is a very original idea – I might join you for some (but not all, since I have to read some books I wouldn’t normally read for school, and they’re not all fun and games. I mean, Less than zero and Kanthrapura are next ones).

    Oh and that mani is gorgeous!

    • You did it! I hope that for a brief moment you considered the different demises for the manicure, while tastefully and rightfully turning to a pastel-creeping mold haze that represents the characters’ lives. You know my opinion of this book; but know that I will respect it more when I come across it now (I think I sold my copy or threw it out the window in the late 90s).

      • Oops, that was supposed to be a new comment, not a reply. Too excited by this mani to see straight. Also, I’ll be posting some redolent mermaid challenge reviews soon, alas I doubt I’ll have accompanying nail art.

      • You could always theme your wax and candle choices to your novel…for The Virgin Suicides I’d pick some sort of earthy, mossy scent. With a side of cotton candy frosting.

      • I did it, I did it! And nothing literal – no need to scar y’all unnecessarily. 🙂

        The only book I’ve ever thrown out (I tend to donate them or dump them down in my condo’s library) is 13 Reasons Why, a YA novel that I see is being turned into a Netflix movie. Oddly, it’s another one about suicide, told from the perspective of a young girl who kills herself, via audio recordings she leaves behind for “friends” and acquaintances. I LOATHED that book so much, barely got through 30 pages, and after I flipped through to the end just to get a bit of (totally lame, infuriating) closure, I literally ripped the thing in half, tossed it in the garbage can and threw some greasy leftovers on top of it. Like, total raze the earth styles. Horrible book, totally deserved its end.

      • Oh yes, that book. One of my speechie seniors performed it in Dramatic Interpretation 4 years ago. I’m sure it got plenty of audience/judge eyerolls, no matter how sincerely she tried. It was kinda fun to coach though.
        P.S. you really showed that book not to waste your time and effort!

      • Oh my goodness, I need to know more (within the confines of all that teacherly student stuff, of course.) Was this for drama class? I CANNOT imagine how that would go over with a panel of adults (I’m assuming), because that book was truly 13 kinds of shit, and so up its own ass. And that’s actually just kind of what being a teenager is like, but this book was just so annoyingly smug about it.

      • Lol, the actress did fit the role. Anyway, my hubs and I are forensics coaches for our local high school. Forensics, as in coaching students in the skills of public speaking (speech) and the study and use of reasoned discourse (debate) NOT as in CSI or Law and Order.
        Our students(speechies) are put in different individual events in which they perform at tournaments held on Saturdays from Oct-March. Some events are Drama, Humor, United States Extemporaneous Speaking and Prose and Poetry. We started the team, love it and have been at it for 8 or 9 years.

        Now that you mention it, we and our Drama who performed 13 Reasons decided it was best not to perform that piece on stage in front of parents/community on our annual Speech Night fundraiser, it might have been shocking, more for the sexual content than suicide stuff. Adults are usually familiar with what they’re getting into and are former competitors or have kids in the events, so they wouldn’t bat an eye at the risque content, but maybe the smug writing:)

        I’ll be mentioning more speechie stuff in my Feb recap post if you’re interested because we’ve had a busy and successful season. BTW you would totally have been in Prose (all the cool arty kids are!)

      • That is super cool, Jay. I told my husband about it (I was dance when I was younger, but he was stage) and he was so impressed – a program that like at his school would have been fantastic. Being comfortable in front of an audience is so much more than performing and “look at me!” (although there’s always an aspect of that) – it’s a vital life skill. I’m totally interested to learn more – I’m looking forward to reading your recap post. 🙂

    • Thank you! And yes, please do play along – it’s fun! I have a horrible tendency to sort of immerse myself in a genre to the exclusion of all others, so this challenge will keep things nicely balanced. Not Less Than Zero alongside Kanthrapura balanced, but if I throw some Tolstoy in there, I may be able to make it work, right? Or surely something from one of Canada’s indigenous writers? Now we’re talking random!

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  4. I really liked the character of Lux Lisbon from the novel and her witty mouth. I also enjoyed Trip Fontaine’s obsession over her – THE STONE FOX. Oh, my!

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