Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Virgin Suicides

by Jeffrey Eugenides / Picador

Cover photograph by Justine Kurland // Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Juxtaposing the most common and the most gothic, the humorous and the tragic, Jeffrey Eugenides creates a vivid and compelling portrait of youth and lost innocence. He takes us back to the elm-lined streets of suburbia in the seventies, and introduces us to the men whose lives have been forever changed by their fierce, awkward obsession with five doomed sisters: brainy Therese, fastidious Mary, ascetic Bonnie, libertine Lux, and pale, saintly Cecilia, whose spectacular demise inaugurates "the year of the suicides." This is the debut novel that caused a sensation and won immediate acclaim from the critics--a tender, wickedly funny tale of love and terror, sex and suicide, memory and imagination.

The cover of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which I designed with Olga Grlic, is still one of my favorite designs and favorite books. So when Picador got the rights to republish The Virgin Suicides in paperback, I was excited to get the chance to repackage it.

Great typography huh?

I absolutely loved Sofia Coppola's debut film version of the book. So it was hard not to be influenced by the look and tone of the movie. I wanted to stay away from depicting any direct scenes from the book and go with images that suggested the spirit of the writing. Jeffrey and my Publisher also wanted to go for a modern American classic look.

Working with a limited budget, commissioning a new piece would be difficult so I looked for artist that dealt with similar themes in their work. Hoping to find something in their collection that would resonate sympathetically.

Jeffrey had suggested the Dutch photographer and video artist, Rineke Dijkstra. She photographed an early series of adolescent bathers in the United States and Eastern Europe in 1992 that dealt with their discomfort over their bodies. Children who seem at odds with their own bodies as they confront puberty. I contacted her representative at the Marian Goodman Gallery and we looked over her work and selected this image entitled, "Hel, Poland, August 12, 1998". Even though it didn't have a direct link to the story, it captured the mood.

Reineke's image was gorgeous but it was decided that a young girl in a bathing suit was too far away from the book. I remembered when we were brainstorming for MIDDLESEX, Jeffrey had suggested using one of sculpture/performance/video artist Matthew Barney pieces from his Cremaster Cycle on the cover. Interesting idea because they both dealt with early moments of sexual development that represented a condition of pure potentiality. But it would just be too disconnecting to most readers.

Another photographer that I had worked with on a previous book, Serious Girls came to mind. Justine Kurland, the fine-art photographer. She first became known for a series that depicted fierce feral teenage girls running wild in nature that addressed female identity without appearing passive or seductive.
I thought she would be perfect for this.

I got in touch with Justine's gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash and asked if they had anything that would be related to the book. They were very helpful. Justine sent me two images that she thought would work.

This image entitled MIDSUMMER NIGHT:

Beautiful and appropriate. But I loved her second image entitled ORCHARD:

It wasn't depicting anything that actually happened but was a visualization of a group of young men's nostalgia for the unattainable girls of their youth. The Lisbon sisters of their memory. Below, Justine describes in an email her inspiration for the photo after I sent the comps to Jeffrey.

hi henry,

great. I hope something works out. I loved that book, and actually read it the same time I was making the girl pictures. my favorite part, which was completely missing from the movie, was the hyperbolic fantasy life of girls imagined from the point of view of the boys, forever unknowable. for that, my strongest recommendation would be "the orchard"

How about that? It was as if I commissioned her for this book. It all came together nicely in the end. My Publisher and I loved it, and so did Jeffrey and his wife. DeLUX.

A Video Conversation with Jeffrey Eugenides in The New York Times Book Review
The author discussed his celebrated novels, "The Virgin Suicides" and "Middlesex," and the decline of his hometown, Detroit, with Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review.
Jeffrey's opening words warmed my heart. :) <3

NPR: All Things Considered
Listen Now 'The Virgin Suicides': Inspired By Detroit's Woes?


Ian Koviak said...

Like a scene from midsummer night's dream. great photo.

Doom For Darlings said...

I love both the book and movie and feel that they are both extremely powerful. I think you really did the book justice by capturing both the strength and stillness of it. Great work!

Anonymous said...

All the art you considered for this one was lovely - and a great eventual choice.

Emily said... perfect and fitting!