What we choose to preserve and to forget

As a memoir that celebrates even the most nightmarish aspects of a person's life, what really stood out for me while reading The Virgin Suicides was the author's choice of point-of-view; a distinguishable first-person plural "We" voice that makes it feel as if the readers have grown up all their lives in the neighborhood where the Lisbon family resided. The effect was magnetic; I was becoming attached with every Lisbon sister--amused by their eccentricities until I was falling in love with the portraits they are immortalized with--though my perception of them is limited by the unreliable and often biased accounts of the "we" persona, and this limited POV is dangerous.

It was a bizarre reading experience: as much as I feel like I know the Lisbons, I was still an outsider-looking-in, and there is something tragically voyeuristic about it that made me pause because I find myself contemplating whether or not my own fixation through the POVs provided was more damaging than it is insightful. What starts as a compelling premise of the youngest sister Cecilia's suicide that signaled the start of the most unlikely rapture, the novel became a more intimate look at the deterioration of the famliy dynamics within the Lisbons; and how the neighbors and acquaintances around them bore witnessed to these fragile state of things. Often times it feels like I'm watching reality television unfolding, but without its entertainment value.

The Lisbon family is the center of attention in this novel, and the seams of their lives are coming undone. The "We" narrators of the story claim to love them, to understand their plights and woes; and yet they are as much as strangers as we the readers are. We find ourselves worshiping the Lisbon sisters alongside these neighborhood boys and men who, though very concerned about each sister's distress, could never save them at all. And so readers like me feel just as helpless, mere bystanders in a traffic wreckage that is someone else's life.

We yearn for the unreachable Lisbon sisters together and it left only a bitter aftertaste in our mouths because at the end of the voyage, we never knew them. We never helped them. We only stood close the storm and gazed at the destruction it left. After the deluge, the narrators are filled with regret and forlorn, coming back to their preserved memories of the sisters because nostalgia is all they will ever have.

* This was a captivating story that manages to strike the most perfect balance between humor and heartbreak; fond recollection and despair; triumph and loss.


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