The novel takes place in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the same town where Eugenides was raised; the novel’s era, around 1973 to 1975, also coincides with Eugenides’s adolescence. While it is common for a first-time novelist to set a work of fiction in the time and place of his or her childhood, Eugenides’s setting functions as a powerful metaphor for the implosion of the Lisbons and the narrators. Consider the time period: the 1970s found the United States in a crippling, decade-long economic slump caused by multiple energy crises, the decline of America as a manufacturing power, and rising prices. Particularly hard hit was Detroit, the center of the American auto industry and a leading industrial center—a symbol of America’s might and the promise of the American Dream. With the decline of the American automotive industry came job losses by the tens of thousands; coupled with violent race riots and “white flight,” the city’s population dropped by over 200,000 people in a single decade. Whole neighborhoods were abandoned; crime skyrocketed. While a lavish party at the end of The Virgin Suicides celebrates the promise of a return to a golden age, Eugenides most strongly sides with the father of one of the narrators: they were “living in a dying empire.”

Gross Pointe, bordering Detroit to the northeast (and close enough for the narrators to hear gunshots), initially appears to be the opposite of a dangerous city: it is a leafy, quiet suburb composed of “old money”—auto executives and other upper-class professionals—removed from the harsh reality of the time. For the purposes of the novel, it is a microcosm, a world within a world, that Eugenides uses to examine the moral decline of people rather than of industry. Indeed, while Gross Pointe shields the narrators and others from economic realities, its isolation, just like the Lisbons’ isolation, creates a detachment, an unhappiness, that leads to emptiness and despair. For the Lisbon sisters, the only outlet is suicide; for the narrators, they remain “up here in the tree house” even into middle age, trying to comprehend what they lost during their Gross Pointe years; for the townspeople, ignorance and concerns with appearances dominate their superficial lives. Eventually, societal decay seeps into Gross Pointe, first in the form of tree disease that removes the forest canopy, making Gross Pointe look like Detroit; and at the novel’s end, it comes in the form of a chemical spill into bordering Lake St. Clair, creating a literally toxic mess in the town the summer after Cecilia’s suicide. The neighborhood and town’s demise is “dated...from the suicides of the Lisbon girls.”

The Virgin Suicides Bibliography

Griffith, Michael. 1994. “The Talent in the Anteroom: Five Young Novelists.” Southern Review, 30(2): 384-387. Griffith compares Eugenides to celebrated Russian author Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita) and considers how the voice and themes of Eugenides’s novel critique American values.

Kakutani, Michiko. 1993. “Book Review: The Virgin Suicides.” New York Times, March 19. Kakutani, the lead literary critic of the Times, reviews The Virgin Suicides.

Prince, Tom. 1993. “Book Review: The Virgin Suicides.” New York Review of Books, April 26, pp. 54-58. Prince offers a positive review of Eugenides’s debut novel.

Truax, Alice. 1993. “Book Review: The Virgin Suicides.” New York Review of Books, June 10, pp. 45-46. Truax provides another positive review of the novel.

Welch, Dave. 2003. “Jeffrey Eugenides Has It Both Ways.” Powells (April 9). Accessed January 7, 2009: . Welch interviews Eugenides about the thematic strands running through his two novels.

Womack, Kenneth, and Mallory-Kani, Amy. 2007. “Why Don’t You Just Leave It Up to Nature? An Adaptationist Reading of the Novels of Jeffrey Eugenides.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, 40(3): 157-173. The authors review The Virgin Suicides through a social, psychological, and scientific lens.