Analysis

The media's responses to Cecilia's death seems no more relevant to the tragedy than the preceding months of silence. Whereas the confessional television program sensationalizes suicide, the informative pamphlets diffuse its threat in simply numbers and statistics. Neither effectively inquires into the causes of suicide, choosing only to describe suicide characteristics as if they were a hurricane or other inevitable disasters. Likewise, the high school's Day of Grieving deals only with tragedy in the broadest of terms, speaking of hardship and pain, but avoids any mention of suicide. What these events demonstrate is that the community's public response to the suicide has nothing to do with helping the Lisbon girls, but instead is a way of allowing the community to symbolically alleviate its guilt. The caricatured Day of Grieving illustrates the hypocrisy of suburban ideals of propriety and ceremony at the expense of substance. Ironically, the Day's organizers consider it to be a great success, despite its failure to address Cecilia's suicide and despite the Lisbon girls' failure to attend. After all, it was not until the Lisbon house began to physically decay, interrupting the neighborhood's navel-gazing with its constant visual reminder of the family's plight that the community felt it had to respond at all. Had the Lisbons kept up decorum and confined their despair to the house's interior, the community might never have noticed their plight.

Lux's brief appearance on the family porch as the boys arrive to pick up the Lisbon girls for Homecoming is a crucial indication of her role as a lookout, and as an intermediary between her sisters and the outside world. Throughout the book, it is Lux who speaks to boys in the hallway, who appears as the most desirable sister, who will become the most sexually adventurous, and whose relationship with Trip is responsible for the girls even going to Homecoming. Lux, or "light" in Latin, appears as a kind of beacon. Lux travels back and forth between the feminine and masculine worlds through the only means available, that of desire. She is the quintessential siren, a creature of liminal places: doorways, thresholds, porches, and windows. Lux's role is simultaneously one of solicitor and gatekeeper, drawing the boys in, while also ensuring that they only enter on the girls' terms. When the boys arrive on Homecoming night, she rings her own doorbell to warn her sisters, giving them a few precious minutes of preparation. A striking twist on this scene will occur at the end of Chapter Four, when lookout Lux stalls the boys to give her sisters time to die.

The horror and tragedy of the surrounding chapters relies heavily on the innocence, giddiness and normalcy of Homecoming night—the girls' first and last chance at happiness. The boys' arrival en masse at the Lisbon house echoes their arrival at Cecilia's party in Chapter One, and foreshadows their arrival to rescue the girls in Chapter Four, both trips that end in suicide. Homecoming is haunted by these tragedies and framed by them, suggesting that the girls could have lived merrily ever after. The reader waits, darkly, for something to go wrong here too. Furthermore, the girls' sudden metamorphosis, from weird recluses into belles of the ball, suggests the deeply transformative power of environment. Though they appear awkward and oddly dressed in the house, the girls begin to relax in the car, and by their arrival at the dance, become chatty and desirable. The change implies that the sisters' abnormal behavior is directly tied to the Lisbon house, whose influence can be escaped by physically leaving the environment. This notion contradicts the neighborhood's idea that the girls are chronically weird or inevitable victims. It also suggests that once the girls are confined to the house, in Chapter Four, their fate is in some sense sealed. Finally, the detrimental effects of the girls' local environment hint at the overwhelming influence of the suburban environment at large in influencing the novel's events. The novel's characters are constantly in suburbia, but will remain oblivious to its influence. On the other hand, our privileged position outside the bounds of the neighborhood and the narrative allows us to see how deeply suburbia shapes its human inhabitants.