Susan Taubes’s Divorcing (Book acquired, 14 Oct. 2020)

Susan Taubes’s forgotten semi-autobiographical novel Divorcing is being republished by NRYB.

I had never heard of Taubes until Divorcing showed up at Biblioklept World Headquarters yesterday. Divorce was Taubes’s first, and only (to my knowledge) novel. It was first published in 1969 and received a mixed (and somewhat sexist) review in The New York Times by Hugh Kenner. A few days after the review was published, Taubes committed suicide by walking into the Atlantic Ocean. Her body was identified by her friend and contemporary Susan Sontag.

Here’s NYRB’s blurb for Divorcing:

Dream and reality overlap in Divorcing, a book in which divorce is not just a question of a broken marriage but names a rift that runs right through the inner and outer worlds of Sophie Blind, its brilliant but desperate protagonist. Can the rift be mended? Perhaps in the form of a novel, one that goes back from present-day New York to Sophie’s childhood in pre–World War II Budapest, that revisits the divorce between her Freudian father and her fickle mother, and finds a place for a host of further tensions and contradictions in her present life. The question that haunts Divorcing, however, is whether any novel can be fleet and bitter and true and light enough to gather up all the darkness of a given life.

Susan Taubes’s startlingly original novel was published in 1969 but largely ignored at the time; after the author’s tragic early death, it was forgotten. Its republication presents a chance to discover a splintered, glancing, caustic, and lyrical work by a dazzlingly intense and inventive writer.

Here’s a note on Taubes from one of Sontag’s 1965 journal entries. Sontag’s son edited the journals collected in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks 1964-1980, and provides the note that Sontag identified Taubes’s body:

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