In the spring of 1976, Sigrid Nunez went to the apartment of Susan Sontag, who was recovering from cancer surgery and needed someone to help answer her mail. Nunez had just gotten her M.F.A. from Columbia and lived nearby to Sontag’s apartment at 340 Riverside Drive. On her third visit, Nunez met Sontag’s son, David Rieff, and shortly thereafter the two began dating. It wasn’t long before Nunez moved in, beginning what would be a complicated relationship with both Sontag and her son. Her memoir, Sempre Susan, chronicles those few years she spent with Sontag and Rieff. We sat down for coffee not too long ago at the City Bakery on 18th Street to talk about the book.
I was really struck by the line in the book where you say, “Exceptionalism: Was it really a good idea for the three of us, Susan, her son, myself to share the same household?” Was it?
Well, as it turned out, it was a very bad idea. But at the time there were various reasons that made it less crazy than it might have seemed. First of all, Susan had just recently been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She was also in the middle of breaking up with the woman who’d been her partner for several years. She’d always hated living alone, but now she was frankly terrified, and she made it clear that she’d be devastated if David were to move out. Also, David was still in school at the time, and he was financially dependent on Susan.