First, let me say I loved The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides). I did. The characters, the setting, the innovations in the narration, all impressed and moved me. I could go on and on about the narrative techniques–the collective retrospective point of view, the compiling of exhibits and interviews, the foregrounding of the inevitability of the plot–but, praise is less interesting than highlighting the negative; just kidding (but it probably is true)…
Maybe I’ve been reading too much theory, but I’d argue that Eugenides moves from having the narrator simply explore ontological questions in light of the Lisbon tragedy to having the narrator actually make an ontological determination about the nature of the being of the sisters, the nature of the being of suicide. This change in authority, this brandishing of absolutism, comes at the beginning of the last paragraph. The last one:
But this is all chasing after the wind. The essence of the suicides consisted not of sadness or mystery but simple selfishness. The girls took into their hands decisions better left to God.
What a stupid thing to say. It’s hard to explain how pissed off I was after reading those three sentences. Obviously I was invested greatly up until that point.
It’s possible this is the determination these men must make (the collective pov) to heal themselves, to get over their adolescence, but despite the position of the narrator(s) (procurers of all things Lisbon, interviewers, observers, etc.), the narrator hasn’t earned the right to make that claim–it doesn’t fit the book, and the book doesn’t ask for an answer, demand it. Sure, questions of being can be directly raised throughout the story, but the blanket determination doesn’t fit and isn’t necessary for the closure of the narrative. I was in love with this story until that last paragraph, when I was booted out of the narrative.
In this instance, the collective narrator oversteps its abilities with this claim; also, it is a selfish claim in itself, formulated to help the obsessed, injured, and seeking feel better. Perhaps these grown men, the mysterious “us” and “we,” do come to this conclusion. Well, it’s lame. Traditionally, it’s human nature to crave a narrative with moral authority, to desire that events ultimately be assessed for moral meaning. And here, the moral meaning emerges as demeaning to that which is assessed. I don’t think this assessment can be so simple, so blindly certain.
Got you angry, did it? It’s not a particularly well-written paragraph. If the rest of the book is as engaging and impressive as you say, consider the possibility the publisher or editor is to blame for the late misstep. Or, since movies make the same mistake so often, maybe the paragraph was a hint to would-be screenwriters about how to turn the book into a script.