One of the many fascinating dimensions of Sontag is its scrupulous attention to Sontag’s futile struggle to reconcile mind and body. Even at 700 pages, the book is utterly riveting and consistently insightful, in no small part because of its faithful attention to nuance ... The great ambition of Moser’s book is its willingness to organize itself around guiding ideas rather than simply the chronology of events. Or rather, all of these events illuminate the structuring tensions of Sontag’s life ... Moser continually peels away the mythology of Sontag—as a single-name icon—to reveal the beating heart of a mortal woman underneath. The book takes this larger-than-life intellectual powerhouse and makes her life-size again ... If the project of literary biography involves staging a conversation between the intellectual and personal plotlines of a life, one of the most moving illuminations of Moser’s book is that Sontag’s intellectual plotline—the evolution of her ideas—offers more traditionally recognizable progression and resolution than the narrative arc of her personal life ... He honors the ways in which her life was never just one thing at once ... Many of the most exciting moments in his biography are the ones in which Moser brings himself to argue with Sontag directly ... By framing Sontag’s intellectual project within the landscape of her personal experience—bringing her cancer and her queerness and her fragility back into the picture—Moser honors Sontag’s intellectual legacy not just by arguing with her claims but by arguing with her mode—by wondering what additional layers of meaning her work might hold when it’s brought back into conversation with her personal experience.
... a book as handsome, provocative and troubled as its subject ... Moser...is triggered. His book has an interesting, jumpy, adversarial energy, with its author caught up in the drama and not so subtly taking sides in the clashes surrounding Sontag ... We encounter Sontag as a series of masks, motifs, symptoms and symbols, with her biographer presenting a set of master keys that might explain her behavior ... Where Moser shines is not in analysis but in narrative, no easy feat for a life committed to reinvention ... Moser offers an elegant, sensitive summation of the decades that followed [her] ugly divorce ... It’s a pity that Moser is only dutiful about the work, given that in a sense, the work was her real life, the place where she found the eros, the excitement and fulfillment she long sought; it is perhaps why he gives such centrality to her myth instead.
If the journals authenticate Moser’s dire portrait, his interviews with friends, lovers, family members, and employees deepen its livid hue ... unsparing ... By Moser’s lights, every writer who has been heavily edited can no longer claim to be the author of his work ... Moser’s biography, for all its pity and antipathy, conveys the extra-largeness of Sontag’s life ... Moser’s anecdotes of the unpleasantness that she allowed herself as she grew older ring true, but recede in significance when viewed against the vast canvas of her lived experience. They are specks on it. The erudition for which she is known was part of a passion for culture that emerged, like a seedling in a crevice in a rock, during her emotionally and intellectually deprived childhood. How the seedling became the majestic flowering plant of Sontag’s maturity is an inspiring story—though perhaps also a chastening one. How many of us, who did not start out with Sontag’s disadvantages, have taken the opportunity that she pounced on to engage with the world’s best art and thought?