cover image Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon

Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon

Carl Rollyson. W. W. Norton & Company, $45 (370pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04928-2

Known variously (and with varying degrees of kindness) as ""the Beatnik Boadicea,"" ""the Paganini of criticism "" and ""the most curious person alive,"" Susan Sontag--critic, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, public intellectual--has consistently provoked awe, distrust, veneration and fear as one of the most perceptive, talented and controversial of American writers and thinkers. Although she has occupied a central place in the twin worlds of literary and popular culture since her influential first essays appeared in the Partisan Review in the early 1960s, this is the first full-length biography and one of the few critical studies of the author and her work. Rollyson and Paddock have unearthed a deluge of information on Sontag's personal life--on her early years and family life, her lesbianism (which she has only recently publicly acknowledged), her relationship with son David Rieff and her battles with breast cancer. While the authors provide an intelligent, though not strikingly original, analysis of her work, they are best at detailing how Sontag and her publishers have marketed her image as much as her thought. Often the book has a casual feel that undercuts its seriousness, and Rollyson and Paddock frequently seem willing to quote anyone who will criticize Sontag (Camille Paglia's remarks come off as petty and self-promoting). Yet in the end, this is a respectful, informed first look at an important writer's life. (July)