Study Guide

Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides Summary

Thirteen-year-old Cecilia Lisbon slits her wrists in the bathtub, and the paramedics take her to the hospital where she's cared for and discharged a week later. At the suggestion of her psychiatrist, her parents let their five daughters throw a party, which the narrators, a chorus of neighborhood boys, attend. During the party Cecilia goes upstairs and throws herself out of a window onto an iron fence spike, this time succeeding in killing herself, gruesomely and very publicly.

The adults attend Cecilia's funeral, and the boys become obsessed with explaining why she did it. They get hold of her diary and try to recreate her final hours, and become obsessed with her surviving older sisters, whose lives seem to be controlled by their religious and repressive mother. The girls keep to themselves, so the narrators don't know much about them except what they can deduce from spying on them. The neighborhood dads pull down the fence that impaled Cecilia.

Fourteen-year-old Lux Lisbon attracts the attention of Trip Fontaine, the hottest guy at school, but overall the family keeps a low profile after Cecilia's death, almost never leaving the house. The school holds a "Day of Grieving" for Cecilia, but no one really knows how to act so it's kind of a joke. They don't even mention Cecilia or suicide. Trip asks the girls' dad, a teacher at school, if he can take Lux to homecoming. The Lisbons agree to let the girls go out on a group date with Trip and three of his friends. The boys find the girls to be surprisingly normal once they're out of the house.

Mary Lisbon dances while Lux and Trip hide under the bleachers to make out. At 10:30 it's time to go home, but Lux and Trip, homecoming king and queen, are nowhere to be found. The other four girls go home without her. Trip takes Lux to the football field, where they have sex; he sends her home alone, disgusted with her. After that night the girls are pretty much under house arrest by their parents, not even allowed to go to school.

Lux starts receiving randos on the roof for sex. One day she fakes a burst appendix so she can get to the hospital for a pregnancy test (it's negative, but she has HPV). At Christmastime Mr. Lisbon loses his job at the high school and the family really goes downhill. The house falls into disrepair and the neighbors get only occasional glimpses of the family, who seem to be falling into disrepair themselves.

The girls start leaving mysterious messages and Virgin Mary cards around the neighborhood, and the boys decide to call them on the phone. The girls suggest that the boys meet them on the night on June 16, presumably to plan their escape. The boys agree to go save the girls, offering to drive them to Florida. Lux greets them on the designated night and tells them she'll wait in the garage while her sisters finish packing. Actually, the other sisters are in the process of dying: Bonnie hangs herself in the basement, Mary puts her head in the gas oven, Therese takes a lethal dose of sleeping pills and Lux leaves the car running in the garage and dies from the carbon monoxide. It's exactly one year after Cecilia's first suicide attempt.

The paramedics come and are only able to save Mary. She lives for another month with her shell-shocked parents in their empty house. The rest of the neighborhood tries to forget the tragedy, distracting themselves with a party. That night Mary finally makes her escape, overdosing on sleeping pills. The narrators, looking back on that horrible year 20 years later, realize they'll never understand what happened.

  • Chapter 1

    • Mary Lisbon is the last Lisbon sister to kill herself, and the ambulance comes to pick her up.
    • Flashback to where it all begins: Mary's youngest sister, Cecilia, slits her wrists at age thirteen and is discovered in a bathtub full of her blood.
    • Paramedics come and take Cecilia to the hospital.
    • The narrators, a "we" made up of neighborhood boys, explain that they've tried to recreate the sequence of events that day.
    • Peter Sissen had been invited to eat dinner at the Lisbon house and he reports back on the girlie wonders of the sisters' bathroom.
    • Paul Baldino, another boy in the group, decides to enter the Lisbon house via sewer tunnel (say what?) and spy on the girls while they're showering.
    • He's the one who discovers Cecilia bleeding in the tub and calls the police.
    • The paramedics find a laminated picture of the Virgin Mary in Cecilia's hands and give it to her distraught parents.
    • After the suicide attempt, everyone pretends that it never even happened. On a psychiatrist's advice, the Lisbons begin to give their daughters more freedom.
    • Two weeks after Cecilia comes home from the hospital, the girls throw a party, the first one in their whole lives.
    • The boys go to the party, curious and excited, and are invited downstairs to the rec room.
    • Cecilia's off by herself, and everyone ignores her. She wears bracelets taped on her wrists to hide her scars. She's also wearing a filthy wedding dress (the one she wore when she tried to kill herself).
    • Everyone's happy when "Joe the Retard" (sorry, that's what the narrators call him) comes and takes some of the attention off of Cecilia.
    • Cecilia asks to be excused from the party and goes upstairs. Everyone hears the noise of Cecilia falling and landing on a spike of the fence outside.
    • Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon run upstairs. Everyone else goes out onto the porch and sees Mr. Lisbon trying to lift Cecilia, impaled and dead, off of the spike. Now there's an image you don't want to go to sleep with.
  • Chapter 2

    • The paramedics come and have to cut the fence stake in order to get Cecilia's body off of it.
    • There's a cemetery workers' strike going on, so Cecilia's body can't be buried.
    • The neighborhood parents attend Cecilia's funeral, but not the kids.
    • The narrators find Cecilia's diary and search it for clues as to why she would kill herself.
  • Chapter 3

    • The Lisbons' neighbors try to show their compassion, but they're also so horrified by Cecilia's suicide that they avoid talking about it.
    • Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon also refuse to discuss it, even with the priest, Father Moody.
    • After the funeral, the mysterious "we" narrator gets very interested in the surviving Lisbon girls. They (it seems that the narrator represents a group of neighborhood boys) watch them and memorize every detail of their movements.
    • Some neighborhood fathers get together and decide to remove the spiked fence that Cecilia had jumped onto, saying it's dangerous.
    • They don't have the tools to do it, though, and have to pay a man to come and use a tow truck to pull it out of the ground.
    • Like every June, the neighborhood is covered with the carcasses of fish flies, and everyone takes out their anxiety over the death on getting rid of the dead bugs.
    • The boys clean their own houses, and then decide to go clean off the Lisbon house. Mr. Lisbon thanks them, and then goes inside.
    • He finds a retainer belonging to Kyle Krieger, left at the party, and tries to flush it down the toilet. It won't go down, though.
    • He sees Cecilia's ghost in her old bedroom, but it turns out that it was only his daughter Bonnie, wrapped in a bed sheet.
    • The psychologist, Dr. Hornicker, asks Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to come in, but they won't. For the rest of the summer the family's mostly reclusive.
    • When school starts again, the remaining four girls go to school like nothing even happened. Mr. Lisbon goes back to teaching math at the school.
    • Boys try to talk to the Lisbon sisters, but they keep to themselves and won't talk back.
    • Except, that is, for Lux, who secretly hooks up with many, many boys at school.
    • Trip Fontaine, the BMOC, falls madly in love with Lux. He's got girls falling all over him, but he gets fixated on her.
    • Since he's never had to ask a girl out (they just come to him), Trip doesn't know how to go about wooing Lux.
    • Trip waits for Lux outside an assembly and follows her in. Their arms touch on the armrest and, when the assembly is over, he tells her she's a stone fox. That's right.
    • He tells Lux that he's going to go to her house (bold move), and he does. He sits and watches TV with her parents there, never getting to make a move.
    • When he leaves, though, he gets into his car and suddenly Lux appears, on top of him, and they make out like crazy for three minutes. She leaves to get back before her parents miss her.
    • Lux is grounded and Trip isn't allowed to visit anymore.
    • The Lisbons never go anywhere except for school and church.
    • Autumn comes and the leaves fall. The Lisbons are the only family on the street that doesn't rake their leaves.
    • A reporter named Linda Perl comes to the house to talk to the family, and then writes a story about the teen suicide epidemic.
    • The girls become more and more closed off at school, sticking to themselves.
    • Mrs. Woodhouse, the school headmaster's wife, decides to hold a "Day of Grieving" to let everyone process the suicide. It's a little awkward, though, and no one mentions suicide or Cecilia, so it's pretty meaningless. Empty gesture, etc.
    • The sisters start visiting the school therapist, Miss Kilsem, and they seem happier.
    • Trip Fontaine visits Mr. Lisbon during his planning period and tells him that he wants to take Lux to the Homecoming dance.
    • Mr. Lisbon says that Mrs. Lisbon won't let him. Trip offers to find three friends to take the other three girls so that it will be a group rather than a date.
    • Mr. Lisbon promises to do what he can.
    • Trip chooses his team carefully and ends up with Parkie Denton, whose dad has a Cadillac, Kevin Head, who promises to help Trip tune up his car, and Joe Hill Conley, because his smarts will impress Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon.
    • The boys show up at the Lisbon house, and Mrs. Lisbon questions them on their driving abilities before the girls come downstairs to meet their dates.
    • Only Trip and Lux are a real couple, while the others girls just sort of divvy up randomly between the remaining boys.
    • The girls are ecstatic at being out of the house. They boys are floored by how normal they seem—chatty and seeming happy.
    • Therese tells the boys that Cecilia was weird, but that they just want to live, if anyone (i.e., their parents) would just let them.
    • They make it to the dance, and Lux smokes a cigarette before going in. They finally establish couples: Bonnie and Joe Hill Conley; Lux and Trip; Therese and Kevin Head; Mary and Parkie Denton.
    • The girls all go into the bathroom together to freshen up, and then hit the dance floor.
    • Lux and Trip sneak off under the bleachers to make out, and Bonnie and Joe Hill Conley follow them.
    • They drink peach schnapps and kiss, and then return to the dance floor. Trip and Lux are crowned homecoming queen and king.
    • At ten-thirty, after the dance, the girls only have half an hour to make it home before their curfew. There's a slight problem, though: Trip and Lux are nowhere to be found.
    • They go back home and Joe Hill Conley kisses Bonnie and Kevin Head kisses Therese. Mary gets out without any kisses.
    • Two hours later Lux rides up in a taxi. Her mother opens the door, listening to church music while she waits for her rebellious daughter.
    • Many years later Trip tells the narrators what happened that night. He and Lux had gone to the football field to have sex. In the middle of it Lux started crying and saying she always screws things up. He got turned off, walked home, and didn't care how she had made it home.
    • The other boys drive around for the rest of the night, hoping for a sign from the girls.
    • One of their bedroom lights comes on, and Parkie honks his horn at her just as the light goes out.
  • Chapter 4

    • Mrs. Lisbon grounds all of the girls after Lux's late return, and Lux responds by meeting men on her roof to have sex.
    • Mrs. Lisbon pulls the girls out of school; the only time they leave the house is to go to church on Sundays.
    • Lux finds a way, mysteriously, to communicate with random boys and men from all over the city, who come to the house at night and sneak up to the roof with her.
    • These guys describe Lux as sexually voracious, but at the same time indifferent to the whole thing. Still, she can't stop.
    • One night the ambulance shows up again at the Lisbon house and carries Lux out, in pain.
    • It seems she has appendicitis, but actually she's worried that she's pregnant.
    • She secretly explains to the doctor that she claimed to have a stomachache so she could get out of the house and have a pregnancy test.
    • Lux isn't pregnant, but does have HPV (get your public service announcement here), according to rumors.
    • The psychologist, Dr. Hornicker, also stops by to see Lux in the hospital but she won't talk to him.
    • He develops a new theory about the Lisbon girls: they're suffering from PTSD because of Cecilia's suicide.
    • Mr. Lisbon continues to go to school and teach, but he acts slightly off. Six weeks after his daughters leave school, he quits his job out of the blue.
    • It turns out that he was told to resign by the principal, Mr. Woodhouse.
    • Now that the entire family is stuck in the house with nothing to do, the house just sort of dies.
    • The neighborhood boys notice that Bonnie's wasting away. She dresses strangely and also does stuff like pray at the spot where her little sister had died.
    • At night, Therese uses her ham radio to talk to people all over the world, including someone who seems to have also lost a sibling to suicide.
    • One of the neighborhood boys' grandmother, Mrs. Karafilis, is an old Greek woman who has suffered great tragedy in her life and therefore seems to have a strange connection with the Lisbon girls.
    • In the spring, men from the city come to cut down the tree in the Lisbons' front yard because it's infected with Dutch elm disease.
    • The girls protest, linking hands and protecting the tree.
    • It works. The men go away, leaving their tree standing for now.
    • The newspaper woman, Ms. Perl, shows up in time to write a story about the tree rescue, and links it to Cecilia's death. Typical media move.
    • After several months of silence, the girls contact the narrators. The boys begin finding laminated pictures of the Virgin Mary like the one that Cecilia had in her hands in the bathtub at her first suicide attempt.
    • They also seem to be sending messages using the lights in their rooms, but it's hard to figure it out.
    • The boys notice that there are little candles burning in Cecilia's old room, like the girls have made a shrine to her.
    • Finally, a cryptic letter arrives in Chase Buell's mailbox and the boys all believe it's Lux's writing, saying she's over Trip.
    • The letters keep coming, asking for help. The girls seem desperate.
    • Finally the boys call the Lisbon house on the phone. They let Mr. Lisbon answer and hang up but stay on the line and, sure enough, the girls are there.
    • They continue calling one another and have a DJ-off during one conversation, just spending hours taking turns playing songs over the phone.
    • After several tracks, which are basically the Now That's What I Call Music of the 1970s, the girls hang up without warning.
    • The boys aren't able to contact the girls anymore. They watch them through their binoculars and see the girls packing a trunk. It looks like they're planning to escape from their house.
    • They get a letter that says, "Tomorrow. Midnight. Wait for our signal."
    • The boys all tell their parents they're spending the night with each other so no one will miss them, and they hide out in a tree house drinking warm beer.
    • A flashlight signal in a window at the Lisbon house lets the boys know it's time. They sneak over there.
    • They look in the back window and watch Lux smoking a cigarette. They walk in the back door and tell Lux they'll take the girls wherever they want.
    • There's a noise downstairs, and Lux says they ought to take Mrs. Lisbon's car because it's bigger.
    • Lux seductively unbuckles Chase Buell's belt, but stops before anything happens. She says she's going to wait in the car in the garage while her sisters finish packing.
    • The boys decide to go look downstairs for the girls.
    • They find the basement just as it was the last time they were there, when they went to the party and Cecilia killed herself. Nothing's been cleaned up and the basement is a total flooded mess.
    • Buzz Romano starts dancing in the water, but the rest of the boys suddenly see Bonnie hanging from the ceiling, swinging above his head.
    • It turns out that Mary has put her head in the gas oven, Therese has poisoned herself with sleeping pills and gin, and Lux has asphyxiated herself in the garage. Lux was distracting the boys to give her sisters a chance to die before she killed herself, too.
  • Chapter 5

    • The ambulance comes yet again. The boys have all hidden back in their beds after their terrible discovery. The paramedics manage to save Mary.
    • Mary survives for another month.
    • The girls have killed themselves on the anniversary of Cecilia's slitting her wrists (not her death), June 16.
    • Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon give up on life as we know it.
    • Mr. Lisbon hires a fellow teacher to clean up the house to get it ready for sale.
    • He throws everything away, and the boys go through the discarded stuff to find remnants of the girls' lives that might give them a clue about why they did what they did.
    • A young couple buys the house.
    • Mary and her parents sleep in a sleeping bag while they wait to move out. She takes six showers a day and sleeps most of the time.
    • For some strange reason, she shows up unannounced to take a voice lesson from her voice teacher.
    • The neighborhood goes to a debutante party and, when they go home the next morning they see the ambulance at the Lisbon house. By now, this seems routine.
    • Mary's taken sleeping pills and killed herself.
    • That day the cemetery strike finally ends and the Lisbons can bury all of their girls at once.
    • The next day the Lisbons leave town, and the new young couple moves in.
    • Everyone associates the neighborhood's eventual decline with the Lisbon girls' suicides.
    • The boy, who we now know are narrating this from 20 years later, realize they'll never understand what happened to the Lisbon girls no matter how often they think about them.