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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 February 2007
After reading Eugenides masterful Middlesex, I decided to go back and read his much slimmer debut novel in the hopes it was at least partially as good. While it's not quite as amazing as Middlesex, it is quite good in its own peculiar way. However, those who like their novels to answer the questions they raise should be forewarned, as they will likely find it a rather unsatisfying experience.

Set in the early '70s in the tony Detroit suburb of Grosse Point, the story's premise is outlined in the very first paragraph: over the course of a year, all five of the teenaged Lisbon sisters commit suicide. This year is described in an unusual second-person plural voice which is that of a group of neighborhood boys (now men) who, some twenty years later, are reviewing the results of their "investigation" into the suicides. (There doesn't seem be any particular point to laying this out as an investigation, as opposed to a memoir, and this framework is a little shaky in that various "exhibits" and "attachments" are referred to in the narrative, but unavailable to the reader.)

So while the reader is aware from the start that this is a tragedy, the expectation is that the story will go on to explain why this occurred, what drove the girls to do this. And while the story beautifully details that dismal year, and reports on all the speculation by the neighborhood adults who project their own worldviews onto the tragedy, it concludes: "We were certain only of the insufficiency of explanations." And that is presumably the main point of the book --that suicide cannot ever be explained because we can never have access to the person's thoughts and emotions. This also explains the use of the second-person perspective, as Eugenides implicitly rejects the notion of the omniscient narrator. The boys' obsession with the sisters is another enigma, and becomes almost as creepy and dark as the suicides, as we learn of their all-night vigils and serial-killeresque hoarding of Lisbon sister-related artifacts.

The writing has a certain dreamy ethereal ambiguity to it--there's definitely the haze of memory and a certain degree of nostalgia, but overlain with the essential mysteriousness of the five girls. We only get to know two of them particularly well: Cecilia, a kind of proto-goth who dyes her underwear black, and Lux, who attempts to find human connection via hedonism. In a sense, the book is kind of gothic horror story, shot through with moments of black humor (such as the when the men of the neighborhood struggle to remove the fence Cecilia impales herself on). The film version is utterly faithful to both this tone and the storyline itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2001
After seeing a trailer for the movie on Sky, I thought it may be about teenagers who think they have nothing left to live for. Seeing the title, i judged it to be in the saame sex-horror genre as Cherry Falls.
However-i was wrong. The tragic story is original and unique, telling the story of a strict household brought its knees by the ultimate rebellion: suicide.
It kicks off with the dramatic near-suicide of Cecilia, whose character still eludes the narrators (young boys obsessed with the sisters, all speaking in once voice as narrator) and from there it invited you to judge the little-known, much worshipped Lisbon sisters as they, one by one, leave this world forever.
It isn't a dark tale-there are quite a few spots of humour: for instance, the boys reaction upon reading Cecilia's diary, a girl telling them of her debilatating crush on local smoothie Trip Fomtaine. It is full of those little details that tell of adolescent life: descriptions of Bonnie's hopeless kissing, a brassiere draped across a crucifix, a house of Walt Disney specials, and the rather un-nerving distances existing between mother, father, and 'the girls.'
Overall this is a very touching, tragic, era-reviving story. I reccommend it to anyone who has seen the film, or is just on the look-out for a slightly unusual story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2010
I was terribly disappointed by this book. I was expecting to love it - lots of the books I've read and enjoyed link to this on Amazon (The perks of being a wallflower, When I was five I killed myself, Naïve super, The catcher in the rye etc - all of which are brilliant) and this doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as such greats. It's written in such a mundane, detached manner that you really don't care what's going on. The only blessing is it's a relatively short book and so didn't take up too much of my time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2010
This is a very touching book. And you have to be a hell of a writer, as Eugenides is, to be able to write an entire book around a story - a very tragic event - you reveal in the very first pages. This is not a book about "what" happened, but a book where, always from a distance, always as "outsiders", we keep questioning ourselves about "why" it happened. As readers, we desperately try to fill the very same gaps that Tom Faheen, Chase Buell and all the other boys in the neighbourhood of the "suicide girls" try to fill. We never know what the Lisbon girls really think, or feel, or want. Their inner world remains a mystery buried inside a house that ends up resembling the perished state of mind of its owners. All we can do is collecting pieces of evidence, observing the girls from afar, spying them through their windows, trying to build a "bridge over troubled water", before the irreparable happens. There is no way of escaping this point of view, the author leaves us no choice. We are like the boys who tell us the story - the narrator is an uncommon "we" - and Eugenides succeeds in getting us as emotionally involved as they are.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2001
I was literally glued to this book from eight o'clock in the evening till the late hours of the morning. Having seen the film, i was interested in reading the book. I have never been as hooked on a book as i was to this. I couldn't put it down. The plot and sub-plot of this book were fantastically intertwined...I loved the fact that, on the surface, there was the heartbreaking tale of the five sisters who take their own lives, but also the obsession of the group who are telling the story. Intriguing, beautiful, moving... its just brilliant!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2001
This book was one of the best I have ever read. The first and last paragraphs are written beautifully, the last paragraph making me cry with the poignancy of the book.
This tale is of the five beautiful Lisbon sisters, who, by boys in their neighbourhood, are observed with wonder and sadness.
The girls change when the youngest, Cecilia, commits suicide during a party held for her by her parents. Later on, the boys watch as the girls go on their first, and last, date at the prom and wonder how the girls feel when they are mysteriously withdrawn from school. The emotionsranges from the delight the girls feel at being at the prom, to the lonely sadness they must feel as the boys play records down the phone to them. Overall, this book is a fantastic read and will make you feel as though you are in that neighbourhood at that time. A beautiful, poignant book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2000
For anyone who has seen the movie and is considering buying or reading the book, I absoloutely recommend that you do, the book is much deeper than the movie, I learned a lot more about life and death from the book. The characters all though we never really fully undrstand them become more real. This book is one you should read and then take about a half hour off to just think about what you have it!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2007
This is a beautifully written book about a five sisters who commit suicide. It has a unique style in that there is no real protagonist. Instead there are two groups of characters. The first are the Lisbon girls, whose far-away lives and deaths drive the book. Then are the teenage boys who admire and idolise them. Although the book is written from their point of view, the reader has insight into these boys only through their feelings and actions towards the girls.

This unfathomable nature of the characters is purposeful because the book is about the impossibility of understanding adolescence, both of others' and your own. The main characters struggle to understand the Lisbon girls as if revealing the truth about them would explain something in their own lives. The final act of suicide, which tears the girls out of their reach completely, is the most mysterious of all, and leaves them obsessed.

As the boys ponder about the suicides (years later when they are grown men), collect weird items that the girls left behind and speak to everyone who has interacted with them, you begin to put together a hazy and hopelessly incomplete image of the girls' lives. In the end, no one can explain the motivations behind the their actions, and the reader, like every character in the book, is left wondering.

I would recommend reading the book and watching the film - both equally enchanting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2001
I don't know what to say about this masterpiece. Thinking about the complexity of the characters and the situation they are thrown into just stuns me into speechlessness. Much better than the film, this paints the picture of the heartache felt by the boys that are so much in love with the girls, something we cn all relate to. Eugenides should be very very proud.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2003
At the title, I expect this book to be filled with doom and gloom - which it is, essentially on the surface.
Eugenides, however has managed to weave the pain these teenagers into a story told be the boys across the street. What follows is full of lust, secrets, and mystery.
A brilliant book I didn't put down until I'd read it at least twice.
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