The story is told by an anonymous narrator in the first person plural. The narrator is one or all of a group of adolescent boys who obsessed over the Lisbon girls from a distance in their youth, and now, as middle-aged men, continue to try to piece together the girls' story in hopes of finding a logical explanation as to what exactly brought the girls to their fates and why. Several of the boys are mentioned by name, but the narration never slips into first-person singular and the speaker's identity remains unclear.
The narrative looks back on the time when the boys knew and loved the Lisbon girls, who continue to haunt them in adulthood. The men keep in touch with each other to continue to be the "custodians of the girls' lives", and the subject of the girls always comes up when they "run into each other at cocktail parties or business luncheons."
Still in mourning, the group treasures a secret collection of "evidence" they have gathered and kept over the years ("Exhibits Nos. 1-97") concerning the Lisbons. It includes Cecilia's diary, family photographs and personal objects from the girls' rooms such as bras, hair brushes and rosaries. Due to their connection with the Lisbon girls, many of the objects acquire an almost religious quality.