In the tradition of Bright Lights, Big City and The Secret History comes a compelling, highly-acclaimed debut novel of youth and innocence. On the elm-lined streets of a middle-class American city, the lives of a group of teenaged boys are forever changed by their obsession with five... read more
The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at the local high school and the mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at the local high school and the mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.
Their lives change dramatically within one summer when Cecilia, a stoic and astute girl described as an "outsider", attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. A few weeks later, the girls throw a chaperoned party at which Cecilia jumps from their second story window and succeeds in ending her life, by being impaled by a fence post.
The cause of Cecilia's suicide and its after effects on the family are popular subjects of neighborhood gossip. The mystique of the Lisbon girls also increases for the neighborhood boys, the narrators of the novel.
Lux begins a romance with local heartthrob Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to a homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three girls. Lux then misses her curfew — consequently, the Lisbons become recluses. Mrs. Lisbon pulls all the girls out of school, believing that it would help the girls recover. Mr. Lisbon officially takes a leave of absence. Their house falls into a deeper state of disrepair and none of them leave the house. A strange smell coming from the house permeates the neighborhood. From a safe distance, all the people in the neighborhood watch the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no one can summon up the courage to intervene.
During this time, the Lisbons become increasingly fascinating to the neighborhood in general and the narrator boys in particular. The boys call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls.
Finally, the girls send a message to the boys to come to the house. Shortly after the boys arrive, three of the sisters kill themselves: Bonnie hangs herself, Therese overdoses on sleeping pills, and Lux dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mary attempts suicide from putting her head in the oven, but fails. Mary later succeeds by taking sleeping pills. Newspaper writer Linda Perl notes that that mass suicide comes a year after Cecilia's first attempt. After the suicide "free-for-all," Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon leave the neighborhood. The house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area and most of the Lisbons' personal effects are either thrown out or sold in a garage sale. The narrators scavenge through the trash to collect much of the "evidence" they mention.
“Basically what we have here is a dreamer. Somebody out of touch with reality. When she jumped, she probably thought she'd fly.”Tim Weiner
“Nobody's grandfather had died, nobody's grandmother, nobody's parents, only a few dogs: Tom Burke's beagle, Muffin, who choked on Bazooka Joe bubble gum, and then that summer, a creature who in dog years was still a puppy—Cecilia Lisbon.”(narrator)
“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn't fathom them at all.”(narrator)
“We could never understand why the girls cared so much about being mature, or why they felt compelled to compliment each other, but sometimes, after one us had read a long portion of the diary out loud, we had to fight back the urge to hug one another or to tell each other how pretty we were.”
“And the love he felt at that moment was truer than all subsequent loves because it never had to survive real life.””
“Her mind no longer existed in any way that mattered.”
“We couldn’t imagine the emptiness of a creature who put a razor to her wrists and opened her veins, the emptiness and the calm.”
“What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets." "Obviously, Doctor, you've never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”Dr. Armonson, Cecilia
“'Grief is natural,' she said. 'Overcoming it is a matter of choice.'”Mrs. Woodhouse
“What my yia yia could never understand about America was why everyone pretended to be happy all the time.”Demo
““We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.””
““We had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us... calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.””
““Words, words, word. Once, I had the gift. I could make love out of words as a potter makes cups of clay. Love that overthrows empire. Love that binds two hearts together, come hellfire & brimstone. For sixpence a line, I could cause a riot in a nunnery. But now -- I have lost my gift. It's as if my quill is broken, as if the organ of my imagination has dried up, as if the proud -illegible word- of my genius has collapsed.””
““We realized that the version of the world they rendered for us was not the version of the world they really believed in...””
““They said nothing and our parents said nothing, so we sensed how ancient they were, how accustomed to trauma, depressions, and wars. We realized that the version of the world they rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass they didn't give a damn about lawns.””
““Added to their loveliness was a new mysterious suffering, perfectly silent, visible in the blue puffiness beneath their eyes or the way they would sometimes stop in mid-stride, look down, and shake their heads as though disagreeing with life.””
““What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.””
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