REVIEW | In America by Susan Sontag

image via Goodreads

title: In America [support an independent bookstore and purchase at Strand]
author: Susan Sontag
genre: literary fiction
pages: 387
published: 2000
source: New York Public Library

“Each of us carries a room within ourselves, waiting to be furnished and peopled, and if you listen closely, you may need to silence everything in your own room, you can hear the sounds of that other room inside your head.” (page 27)

In America is such an expansive piece of fiction, in which Sontag takes on everything from immigration to life in the theatre (with the “re”), and from the nature of love to what it means to be American. And she takes it on with an eloquence most can only aspire to. The novel follows Polish actress Maryna Zalezowska, legend of the stage, as she and her close circle of friends leave Poland and immigrate to America to live the simple commune life. Each chapter varies stylistically, which really showcases Sontag’s versatility, and brings new life to many a well-explored theme.

I’m sure I have nothing super original to contribute to a discussion of Sontag’s work, and given that I’ve only (yet) read 1 1/2 of her novels (I started The Volcano Lover years ago but for some reason never finished), I did some research post-reading. I highly recommend listening to this podcast over from CBC Radio’s Writers and Company from October of 2000. First of all, I had no idea Sontag had such a low, resonant voice. Second of all, she is just such a damned eloquent speaker and so fascinating to listen to.

The only part of the book that, initially, didn’t really work for me was the last chapter, where Sontag has Edwin Booth go on an alcoholic tirade about life and truth and acting…it just seemed such a sad and almost oppressive way to end the book. But then, during said podcast, Sontag spoke about what was going on in her life when she wrote the last chapter: she said she writes chronologically and was about 30-40 pages from the end of the novel when she received another cancer diagnosis. Now, with that small glimpse into her frame of mind, I can understand where that might have come from and how wrong I was initially.

Rubric rating: Duh. 9. I really want to read her nonfiction work on photography.

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