Thursday, January 03, 2008


A death in the family

After a chilly but rewarding trip to Italy, I'm back. While I was away, the New York Sun ran my review of David Rieff's Swimming in a Sea of Death. This memoir of Susan Sontag's final illness is largely an exercise in self-flagellation, yet the author--a born reporter in precisely the way his late mother was not--manages some vivid, specific glimpses of what was clearly a terrible ordeal for all parties concerned. You feel for him, while regretting the muffled and meandering texture of the book itself. Here's a sample:
In situations such as these, the prospect of personal transcendence is largely a myth. Mr. Rieff, whose relationship with his famous mother remained on the rocky side, would operate within his own, very human limitations. So too would Sontag, whose confidence in her own survival amounted to a kind of personal religion. She simply would not accept the fact of her impending death. Back and forth Mr. Rieff goes, unable to decide whether her final struggle was admirable--a testament to her "childlike sense of wonder"--or a self-destructive folly.

The answer may be both. But that's not satisfactory for the author, who keeps dredging for something better, even as he admits that language is inadequate to the task. On the very day of her diagnosis, Mr. Rieff recalls, this weakness was cruelly exposed: "What my mother and I shared were words and yet now they felt all but valueless--like Confederate dollars or Soviet roubles."
You can read the rest here. You can also read the interview I conducted with Susan Sontag in 2000, just around the time she published her final work of fiction, In America.

Not a great title for a blog post where your friends read headlines (only) in a feed reader - so my gladness that the death is not in your family seems terribly misplaced and I don't know what to do with myself. Good review though. Sometimes necessary catharsis is probably left in the notebooks.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?