cover image Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim

Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim

D.T. Max. Harper, $20.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-327981-0

New Yorker writer Max (Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace) mixes his own commentary with the raw and revealing transcripts from his conversations with Stephen Sondheim (1930–2021) near the end of the composer’s life, conducted for what became a posthumous profile. Sondheim extols the virtues of a good rhyme (“like sinking a pool ball into the pocket”) and of fidelity to one’s vision (“Don’t write what you think people want you to write. But what you want to write.”). On the personal front, he largely retreads familiar territory such as his contentious relationship with his mother, though he does reveal a few quirks, such as affinities for Radiohead, Breaking Bad, and Microsoft Word. Interspersed throughout are Max’s insightful reflections on the delicacy required for interviews: “Profiles are fraught efforts,” Max writes, “profiles of the famous famously fraught.” In the end, Max paints a nuanced and sympathetic portrait of a notoriously private figure, enhanced with his own astute and earnest perspective: “What a burden Sondheim labored under,” he writes, “to have so many of us depending on him.” Sondheim’s fans shouldn’t miss this. (Nov.)