Please forgive me for the terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist. It was just too tantalizing to give up.
But cheesy jokes aside, this was a fantastic book. Despite reading it during the MLG Providence Gaming Championship, I was totally absorbed by the story of the Lisbon girls. In a way, it’s similar to a Greek tragedy told in modern times, and ultimately a dream-like fantasy of our obsession with self-love.
Despite it being about five teenage girls committing suicide in quite shocking ways, I wouldn’t say that this novel is depressing. Being that it’s told by middle-aged men 20 years after the deaths, as they gather up prized possessions, memories, clues, and even interviews to try to piece back together their mental image of the girls, it’s more a story about remembering your first love, and why it didn’t last. We all have that obscene crush from high school or middle school, and I bet you can still remember small details about them like how they styled their hair, the color of their eyes, maybe even what they smelled like. We’ll never forget those details because they have ceased to become details about the other person, but rather details about yourself because ultimately, it’s not a story about the girls, it’s a story about the boys who loved them, and couldn’t understand why the girls didn’t love them back.
Never in the book do you really understand the girls; who they were as separate people, what they wanted, why they killed themselves, even. And we have repeated scenes of surprise and even shock when the boys actually see the girls as real people; doing regular, mundane things. The image of the girls outgrew the girls themselves. And isn’t that a little like love? Adoring an image of a person so much that flaws and imperfections become beautiful or melt away altogether? It’s almost dream-like how the boys loved the girls, keeping small mementos such as crumbled lipsticks or brassieres, recording every instance as timeless and immortal. Things that if we did outside of love would seem obsessive, creepy, and even crude. Because as we find out by the end, there really wasn’t anything magical about the girls. They had their routines, their dreams and desires, their faults and imperfections. But even Trip Fontaine, who was head over heels in love with the only girl at school who wasn’t head over heels in love with him, discovered that once he had the opportunity to get into Lux’s pants, she was suddenly normal, uninteresting, and even boring.
I especially love this quote from the book; “they made us participate in their own madness, because we couldn’t help but retrace their steps, rethink their thoughts, and see that none of them led to us.” And isn’t this the most maddening part of love? The realization that the stuff of our dreams is that; only dreams; and the person we are obsessed with is a normal person like us? That all of a sudden, when we take them off the high pedestal upon which we had placed them, they are no longer the people we loved, for that person existed only in our own thoughts.
So this novel isn’t so much about girls killing themselves as it is about the boys who loved them, and who learned about themselves through their deaths. In the same way that the girls were literally cooped inside their houses by over-restrictive parents, the boys were cooped up in the self-laden fantasies within their own minds.
It is only at the end, the very end, when the boys venture in to rescue the virgin sisters from their house that they discover themselves, and the girls as people are extinguished in purpose, both literally and metaphorically.