Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of The Virgin Suicides is that, while the boys -- now 20 years on and men -- narrate the tale of five sisters who take their own lives over the course of one year, they never actually knew the girls.
The boys are obsessed with everything the girls are and are not. They collect used hairbrushes in order to feel closer to the sisters, they use binoculars to peek into their windows. Evidence of symbolism, such as laminated images of the Virgin Mary, are picked up and discarded.
In many ways, the story speaks to a time the modern reader can't know. A time when neighbourhoods meant something, when everyone living along a block had children who were about the same age.
A time when a group of boys could create mysteries in their minds, and sympathize with the creatures of their imaginations, yet not do a thing to help them.
And, yes, I know this is a fictional tale, but where were these children's parents? If this is a neighbourhood, and everyone has communal barbeques and cocktail parties, why didn't anyone step up to help five girls drowning in depression, self-indulgence and ultimately fatal self-mutilation?
Obviously, this is not a tale of the rosy old days. And perhaps this is one question author Jeffrey Eugenides leaves us to answer for ourselves.
Somehow, he writes about five girls' suicides without ever explaining why they killed themselves.
Using the written report of the psychologist tasked with helping them, Eugenides writes, "With most people, suicide is like Russian roulette. Only one chamber has a bullet. With the Lisbon girls, the gun was loaded. A bullet for family abuse. A bullet for genetic predisposition. A bullet for historical malaise. A bullet for inevitable momentum. The other two bullets are impossible to name, but that doesn't mean the chambers were empty."
Eugenides barely leaves it to the reader's imagination; he forces the conclusion that overbearing parents drove the girls to suicide.
What I find more complex, however, is what drives these narrator-boys? They are largely unnamed, and it is unclear what use all their exhibits and hypotheses have come to more than a decade after the girls killed themselves.
More than a decade after the boys' obsessions helped the girls do themselves in.
What did the boys get out of it?