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SEMPRE SUSAN by Sigrid Nunez


A Memoir of Susan Sontag

by Sigrid Nunez

Pub Date: April 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935633-22-8
Publisher: Atlas & Co.

Novelist Nunez (Salvation City, 2010, etc.) recalls her years with her longtime friend Susan Sontag (1933–2004).

Nunez, nearly 20 years Sontag’s junior, was working at the New York Review of Books when she first met the woman with whom she would share an apartment and with whose son she would share a romantic relationship. In 1976, Sontag, recovering from breast-cancer surgery, employed Nunez to deal with the piles of correspondence that had accumulated during her illness, and their relationship quickly evolved into a friendship. Nunez mostly eschews traditional chronology for the anfractuous avenues of memory, following them wherever they take her; they take readers to some amusing, painful, difficult and illuminating places. We learn that the white streak in Sontag’s hair was her actual hair color, and the rest was dyed. She admired William Gass and Joan Didion. She bit her nails, hated teaching and rarely prepared for readings. She did not carry a purse. She was funnier than many thought. Her work habits were ferocious but erratic. She liked to read a book every day, but she had no routine or writing schedule. When she was ready to write, she worked day and night, popping pills to stay awake. She was bisexual. Psychologically, it seems, she was surprisingly fragile; she needed to be the center of attention, insisted others do what she wanted to do and felt she never received the respect or money due someone of her talents (she was very impressed with her own talents). Nunez struggles mightily to be fair, but there are times when Sontag just flat pissed her off. Sometimes, says the author, she was “a Joe Louis who wanted to hurt someone.”

Graceful, respectful and achingly honest.