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The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides Summary


Here you will find a The Virgin Suicides summary (Jeffrey Eugenides's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Virgin Suicides Summary Overview

As the lifeless body of Mary Lisbon is carried away, marking the last of the Lisbon suicides, a band of local boys reminisce about the preceding year. The youngest Lisbon sibling, thirteen-year-old Cecilia, attempts suicide by slashing her own wrists but is saved. Hoping to provide her more social exposure, her parents host a party where she is largely detached from her sisters and the boys who attend. To the horror of everyone, she later plunges from her room's window onto a fence, this time successfully ending her life. The community attempts to grapple with this tragedy, their fascination with the remaining Lisbon sisters grows. The boys find Cecilia's diary, an ordinary recollection of her life, and obsess over its contents, but it provides no clear reason for her drastic choice. The Lisbons withdraw further from their community. As the summer ends, the remaining Lisbon girls return to school, keeping to themselves. Mr. Lisbon, a high school teacher, buries himself in work. Lux Lisbon, the most beautiful sister, maintains a few secret affairs despite her parents' strict prohibition on dating. Trip Fontaine, the local heartthrob, falls helplessly in love with Lux and manages to secure permission to take her to Homecoming, provided he finds dates for her sisters and they all return by 11 P.M. That night, Lux and Trip go missing after the dance and Lux returns home after midnight, leading to her parents pulling all the girls from school and confining them to their home. The Lisbon house deteriorates further, mirroring the family's decline. Lux starts bringing unknown men to the rooftop at night. When Lux is rushed to the hospital, the neighborhood fears it's another suicide attempt. Instead, she fakes a burst appendix for the chance to take a pregnancy test. No one leaves the Lisbon house for several months, and it's in April that the girls leave the house to protect their diseased elm tree from being cut down. The girls reach out to the boys with notes, and they communicate with each other through songs over the phone. Then, one day, the girls ask the boys to arrive at their house on June 15th at midnight. The boys find Lux smoking alone and she tells them to wait while she goes to the car. The boys search the house when they grow suspicious and find Bonnie's body. They run from the house in horror, realizing that all the girls had committed suicide while they waited in the living room. The devastated community forces the Lisbons to move, leaving the neighborhood with the haunting memories of the girls' deaths. The once young boys are now grown men who still struggle to comprehend the selfish acts of the Lisbon sisters.

chapter 1

When Mary Lisbon overdoses on sleeping pills and ends her life, the paramedics' visit to the Lisbon house feels eerily normal. This is due to the fact that during the past year, each of her four sisters have also taken their own lives. The observing neighborhood boys, who serve as the narrators, reflect on the first time the ambulance had visited. The initial incident took place in June the year before. Cecilia, the youngest Lisbon girl at 13, is discovered in the bathtub, her wrists slashed, clasping an image of Virgin Mary. She survives the suicide attempt and is rushed to the hospital. Local gossip attributes Cecilia's act to an unrequited passion for Dominic Palazzolo, an Italian boy who expressed his own love for another girl by leaping off his house's roof. After assessing Cecilia, Dr. Hornicker, the hospital psychiatrist, labels the suicide endeavor as a cry for help, recommending social activities outside school to her parents. Motivated by the doctor's suggestion, Mrs. Lisbon permits the daughters to host their first and only party. This supervised event in their basement sees the presence of the neighborhood boys. Prior to this, only one local boy, Peter Sissen, had been inside the Lisbon house, invited for dinner as a thank you for assisting Mr. Lisbon with a school project. Peter's first-hand description of the feminine ambiance in the house fuels hours of intrigued discussions among the boys. The opportunity to step inside the Lisbon house and interact with the girls feels surreal to the boys. Upon reaching the party, the boys are guided into the basement. While Mrs. Lisbon serves punch, Mr. Lisbon tries to engage the boys with his toolkit, and two of the daughters, Therese and Mary, engage in a game of dominoes. Cecilia, the guest of honor at the party, seems indifferent to the gathering, donned in an old-fashioned wedding dress and bracelets to hide her scars, isolated on a stool. The boys start distinguishing the sisters as unique individuals instead of indistinguishable blondes: the devout Bonnie, clumsy Therese, sombre Mary, vibrant Lux, and the stoic Cecilia. Only Lux lives up to the boys' fantasies of beauty, exuding a sense of "health and mischief". The party, however, remains awkward and uncomfortable. The boys are relieved when a neighbor, Joe the Retard, shows up with his mother and shifts their attention. Cecilia, who hasn't spoken a word, requests her mother to let her leave the party. She seems exhausted, fiddling with her bracelets as she moves upstairs. Moments later, a gusty sound followed by a damp thump reverberates through the house. Mrs. Lisbon lets out a blood-curdling scream. Mr. Lisbon rushes upstairs to find that Cecilia has leapt from her bedroom window and is impaled on the fence spikes. The boys rush outside to witness the gruesome sight of Cecilia's lifeless body, in her flowing wedding dress, skewered on the spike with open eyes, as Mr. Lisbon futilely attempts to lift her off.

chapter 2

As the paramedics painstakingly remove Cecilia Lisbon's body from the picket fence, normal suburban life continues in the neighborhood. The boys observe the scene from a distance, but eventually, as night falls, they return to their respective homes. Cecilia's demise occurs amidst a cemetery workers' strike, causing an indefinite delay in burials. Until her death, the strike had been largely ignored by the town's people. Mr. Lisbon chooses a nondenominational cemetery for Cecilia's final farewell before her body is moved to a mortuary freezer. Her death, like her sisters' a year later, is classified as an accident. During Cecilia's funeral, the cemetery, in disarray due to the strike, retains an aura of respect. The protesters at the gates, upon realizing Cecilia's tender age, let the funeral procession pass. The apparent lack of grief displayed by the Lisbon sisters during the funeral sparks rumors that they too were contemplating suicide. Cecilia's passing intensified the boys' interest in her life and that of her sisters. They manage to acquire Cecilia's diary, which they read fervently. The diary is filled with detailed descriptions of the Lisbon girls' lives, offering the boys their first genuine glimpse into the female psyche. "We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn't fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them." Through Mr. Lisbon's account, the boys piece together Cecilia's final day, noting her active participation in party preparations and her long, uneventful bath. Her parents, ever wary of another suicide attempt, monitored her closely. She seemed to be at ease throughout the day, and her withdrawal during the party was viewed as shyness. Her last known actions included sipping pear juice in the kitchen and opening her bedroom window. An unexplained sighting of her with a suitcase and her unexpected fall remain shrouded in mystery.

chapter 3

The neighborhood tries to comfort the Lisbon family after Cecilia's death, mostly by sending flowers. The Lisbons' house is disorganized, and they're not welcoming visitors. The local priest, Father Moody, is the only one who converses with the Lisbon girls, describing them as "buffeted but not broken." Their suffering heightens the boys' curiosity towards them. The community removes the perilous fence Cecilia had jumped from, and it gives them a sense of relief, prompting a cleaning spree. The boys help clean up the Lisbons' property, and Mr. Lisbon appreciates the effort. Once inside, he finds his daughter Therese eating candy and feels disconnected from his children. Ascending the stairs, he sees Cecilia's still open window, which he rushes to close thinking he saw her ghost, only to find his other daughter, Bonnie, draped in a sheet. Dr. Hornicker calls for a follow-up consultation in August, but the Lisbons don't attend. Mrs. Lisbon takes over household duties as Mr. Lisbon withdraws, leaving the house unkempt. On Convocation, the Lisbon sisters return to school, behaving as if the summer tragedy never happened. The girls isolate themselves, and Mr. Lisbon immerses himself in his teaching job. Despite dating restrictions, Lux engages in covert short-term affairs. Trip Fontaine, the school heartthrob, is one of them. After a chance encounter with Lux in a history class, Trip falls hopelessly in love with her. He seizes an opportunity at a school assembly, whispering his intentions to visit her on Sunday and then ask her father for permission to date her. On the planned Sunday, Trip is relegated to sitting next to Mrs. Lisbon, watching television until the family calls it a night. Trip envisions a future of frustratingly watching TV with Mrs. Lisbon, as Lux remains untouchable. Unexpectedly, Lux joins Trip in his car for a passionate kiss before fleeing back into the house. Lux faces grounding, while Trip suffers from her absence. By October, the Lisbon household grows dull. The family only leaves for church and school, while their groceries are home-delivered, and leaves litter their lawn. The house's shabbiness draws attention, symbolizing the family's decline. Cecilia's suicide, which previously went unnoticed, becomes public after a local reporter writes about it and the school is urged to address teen anxiety. The Lisbon girls continue to isolate themselves at school, and the school hires a social worker, Miss Kilsem. Trip persuades Mr. Lisbon to allow him to take Lux to Homecoming under the condition that he finds dates for the other girls and they all return by 11 P.M. On the night of the dance, the girls surprise the boys with their normal behavior. Trip and Lux, along with Joe and Bonnie, sneak away to drink and make out before rejoining the dance, where they are crowned Homecoming King and Queen. Post-dance, Trip and Lux disappear. The other couples wait until 10:50 P.M. before leaving. Lux returns home well past midnight. Trip later reveals that he had convinced Lux to sneak out with him, and they made love on the football field before he left her to walk home alone. Early in the morning, the boys drive past the Lisbon house, noticing a single light in a bedroom window. The light suddenly goes out, leaving them with a sinking feeling that something has gone terribly wrong.

chapter 4

Following Homecoming, the Lisbon girls are removed from school and confined to their home by their mother due to Lux's violation of curfew. This punishment surprises the observant neighborhood boys. Mrs. Lisbon justifies her decision as a healing period after Cecilia's death, a notion Mr. Lisbon seems oblivious to. After a Sunday church service, Lux is made to destroy her rock records. The family's outings are limited to these services and Mr. Lisbon's daily trips to school. As winter approaches, Lux is noticed by the boys engaging in sexual activity with various men on her rooftop. The men describe a neglected house and an emotionally detached Lux. The boys, still virgins, watch in disbelief. An ambulance arrives at the Lisbon house for Lux, who has faked appendicitis to get a pregnancy test. The doctor ascertains she's not pregnant but instead suffering from indigestion and possibly denial of her sister's death. Dr. Hornicker, a psychiatrist, diagnoses the remaining Lisbon girls with post-traumatic stress disorder and warns of potential repetitive suicides. This leads the community to view suicide as contagious, blaming Cecilia for infecting her sisters. The Lisbon house continues to deteriorate over winter. With no repairs or visits, it starts to decay. After six weeks, Mr. Lisbon resigns from his teaching job due to community pressure regarding his inability to handle his own children. Once Mr. Lisbon stops leaving for work, the house assumes an even more desolate state with no one leaving or entering and a noticeable stench coming from the house. The Lisbon sisters become increasingly elusive and the boys struggle to comprehend their lives. The neighborhood discusses the Lisbon's predicament and even Mrs. Karafilis, a massacre survivor, takes an interest in the girls. The media later sensationalizes the girls' suicides, which the boys find unjust and inaccurate. The arrival of spring brings the Parks Department to cut down the Lisbons' diseased elm tree. When the department returns to finish the job, the girls suddenly rush out to protect the tree. The tree is left standing and the girls retreat indoors again. As days pass, the boys feel their connection with the Lisbon girls fading. A year after Cecilia's death, they still don't understand her suicide or the sisters' feelings about it. Suddenly, mysterious messages start to appear. The boys attempt to communicate through phone calls and music. However, after a thrilling exchange, the calls stop. The boys notice the girls packing trunks and believe they are planning an escape. A note appears instructing them to "wait for our signal." On the night of June 15, a flashlight blinks three times from a Lisbon window. The boys, hopeful and excited, head towards the house. Peering through the rear window, the boys spot Lux lounging solo in a halter-top, puffing on a cigarette. Overwhelmed by her, they slip in quietly. Lux seems prepared for their arrival. They offer her a car ride anywhere she wishes. Lux responds that her sisters aren't quite ready to leave since it took their parents a long time to drift off to sleep. However, a soft noise from downstairs prompts Lux to expedite things. She instructs the boys to wait in the living room while she goes to the car. The boys comply, fantasizing about their impending escape with the girls. About twenty minutes later, the boys, alarmed by the house's eerie silence and a faint glow from the basement, decide to investigate. They encounter Bonnie's lifeless body hanging from a beam. Terrified, they flee, neglecting to search for Lux in the garage. They subsequently discover that Bonnie likely died while they were in the living room, Therese had overdosed before their arrival, and they had barely avoided finding Mary's body in the oven during their exploration. Lux's demise due to carbon monoxide poisoning would have taken place after they left. The boys grasp Lux's tactic of stalling, allowing her and her sisters to end their lives in tranquility. Post Homecoming, Mrs. Lisbon withdraws her girls from school and traps them in the house. The boys are startled by this harsh punishment for Lux's curfew violation. Mrs. Lisbon later justifies her actions, stating her daughters needed personal space to heal from Cecilia's death. Mr. Lisbon seems oblivious to this decision. On a Sunday following church, Mrs. Lisbon forces Lux to destroy her rock albums. Apart from church visits and Mr. Lisbon's school runs, the house remains in lockdown. As winter sets in, Lux is often observed engaging in sexual exploits on the roof with unidentified men. These men share tales of being led through a filthy house littered with decaying food and trash, implying Mrs. Lisbon has stopped maintaining the house. Despite their experiences with Lux, the boys, being inexperienced, are left awestruck by her sensual encounters. Three weeks later, an ambulance arrives at the Lisbon house for Lux. Word spreads that she's suffering from a ruptured appendix, but the doctors at the hospital determine it's a false alarm and that Lux had simulated the pain to get a pregnancy test. The hospital psychiatrist concludes that Lux is in denial about Cecilia's death. This new information leads the community to view suicide as an infectious disease, blaming Cecilia for transmitting it to her sisters. The Lisbon house continues to deteriorate during the harsh winter, with no repairs or visitors. Mr. Lisbon's daily school trips are the only sign of life. Six weeks after Homecoming, he resigns amidst rumors of parental concerns about his failure to handle his children. Once Mr. Lisbon's school visits cease, the Lisbon house turns eerily desolate. No one leaves, the lights rarely come on, and grocery deliveries stop. The boys worry about the girls' well-being as they notice the noticeable changes in Bonnie and the foul smell emanating from the Lisbon house. Despite their efforts, the boys struggle to understand what the Lisbon girls are experiencing, a feeling that haunts them even in their later years. The boys' families debate about the Lisbons' circumstances, speculating whether Mr. Lisbon will secure another job. The local newspapers later portray the girls in a negative light following their suicides, leading to the boys' resentment towards the reporters' attempts to vilify the girls' experiences. Despite the imposed solitude, the Lisbon girls manage to keep themselves occupied - Lux with her romantic escapades, Therese engaging in scientific experiments, Mary experimenting with makeup, and Bonnie deepening her religious devotion. As spring arrives in April, the Parks Department comes to remove the Lisbon's elm tree due to disease. The Lisbon girls rush out of the house to protect the tree, resulting in the department postponing the tree's removal. The neighborhood assumes the girls' attachment to the tree is due to Cecilia's love for it, a notion Mr. Lisbon later refutes. The girls retreat indoors indefinitely. The boys, meanwhile, get engrossed in the baseball season. As spring progresses, the boys feel their connection with the Lisbon girls dwindling. A year after Cecilia's death, the boys are still clueless about her reasons for suicide. Just when they feel they've lost the girls entirely, mysterious messages start appearing. After several unsuccessful attempts to communicate, the boys resort to using the telephone. This sparks off a series of silent phone calls between the boys and the girls, marked by an exchange of songs. Exhilarated by this newfound connection, the boys attempt to reach out to the Lisbon house repeatedly, but to no avail. Three days later, they see the girls packing trunks, leading the boys to believe that they are planning an escape. On June 14, a note instructs them to wait for a signal at midnight the next day. On June 15, each boy tells his parents he's sleeping at a friend's place, and they gather in their childhood treehouse to wait. Past midnight, a flashlight blinks thrice from the Lisbon's window. The boys, filled with anticipation, head towards the Lisbon house.

chapter 5

The final visit of the paramedics spells the tragic end for the Lisbon sisters. Lux, Bonnie, and Therese are found lifeless, while Mary clings to life for another month. Dr. Hornicker shifts his diagnosis from the earlier post-traumatic stress to a chemical imbalance of serotonin after observing a slight depression in Mary's serotonin level. Despite his sorrow, the coroner fulfills the state's law and performs autopsies on the sisters. The media frenzy intensifies when investigative reporter Ms. Perl churns out a theory saying the suicides were part of a self-sacrificial pact, tied to some astrological event. Her weak evidence does not deter the media, which descends upon the neighborhood, distorting facts about the Lisbon girls' lives. The neighborhood blindly trusts the media narrative, making the boys feel isolated in their efforts to preserve the girls' true memory. While the Lisbons retreat from public view, their house goes on sale. Mr. Hedlie, their English teacher, is tasked with cleaning the house. Everything is disposed of, and a massive garage sale follows, attracting strangers and gawkers. The desolate house is left to Mary and her parents, who move around aimlessly and sleep in sleeping bags. The boys' parents and the rest of the community seem to adjust back to normalcy, while the boys grapple with their grief. The original bench plaque dedicating to Cecilia now reads, "In memory of the Lisbon girls, daughters of this community." Mary's existence is largely ignored. One day, Mary overdoses on sleeping pills and is found dead. The cemetery workers' strike ends coincidentally on the day of Mary's death, allowing for the burial of all sisters. The mass funeral is attended by the Lisbon parents, a gravedigger, and a priest. Immediately after, the parents leave town, with their house sold to a young couple who erase all traces of the Lisbon girls. The neighborhood deteriorates as the Parks Department removes all trees, leaving the place stark. The boys, now older, find their memories of the Lisbon girls fading, just like the artifacts they possess. The haunting memory of the girls' suicides remains with them in their middle age, a testament to their deep-seated anguish and loss.

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