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Debriefing: Collected Stories

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  272 ratings  ·  55 reviews
A collection of one of our most powerful intellectual's short fiction

Debriefing collects all of Susan Sontag's shorter fiction, a form she turned to intermittently throughout her writing life. The book ranges from allegory to parable to autobiography and shows her wrestling with problems not assimilable to the essay, her more customary mode. Here she catches fragments of l
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 9th 2017)
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Average rating 3.37  · 
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Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaway
Debriefing by Susan Sontag gathers her short stories together in one volume. I will admit that I have never read Sontag, although I remember when her many books came out and garnered a great deal of press. I won this nook from the publisher in a giveaway.

The first story, Pilgrimage, excited me. I related to the lightly fictionalized character, based on Sontag herself, who is overwhelmed when she has tea with Thomas Mann, a writer whose books had left an impression on the teenager. I discovered M
Brendan Monroe
If you tend to buy books before reading them, as I do (as opposed to borrowing them from a friend or a library), do you keep them if you end up not liking them, or do you put them in a stack somewhere, to give away or trade in the next time you visit a used bookstore?

There is something nice about keeping a book, even the bad books, simply to keep a sort of physical record of what you've read (perhaps this is sheer vanity). On the other hand, there's also something nice about having a library tha
Juli Rahel
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Susan Sontag is one of those writers I have been intending to read. It is her essays that were mostly on my mind, her writings on war, illness, culture and art. But for me, essays are something I have to actively be in the mood for. Unlike short stories or novels, it is not as easy to sink away into an essay. There are arguments to be followed, facts to take in, statements to agree or disagree with. So when I saw that there was a collection of short stories by Sontag coming out I figured it woul ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not quite as good as I anticipated, Sontag's Debriefing is comprised of 11 short stories memorable enough for their experimental structure but they run in a circular track, lingering there, with their frequent nonlinearity.

Most of these stories begin interestingly only for them to slide down the rambling hole, their inconsistency apparent, and unfortunately, Sontag can't seem to get away from her style for her comfort in writing her essays overlaps with her intriguing prose which parts of these
Moshin M
I'm not sure whether the short story ever was Sontag's best fit but whenever it did, it really did. This collection is worthy of any bookshelf space if only for the excellent stories Pilgrimage, Baby, and The Way We Live Now. ...more
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
"Now I take a deeper breath. Readying myself, ready, faltering. My longing is pithed. It lies at hand, in words.

Turn up the halogen lamp. there's not enough light in this room.

Love, please go on writing. Your letters will always reach me. you can write me in your real, your littlest script. I will hold it to the light. I will magnify it with my love."

This is my first time reading Sontag and I'm absolutely blown away. I don't think I've ever read a better essay collection. Sontag writes about t
Jim Puskas
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
Strictly speaking, most of these are barely classifiable as stories.
e.g. Pilgrimage is a recollection of having, as a teenager met Thomas Mann; The Letter Scene is a contemplation of the Pushkin story; Unguided Tour is a sort of conversation, as is Baby, I suppose. A couple of others are fantasies and the rest can best be described as musings. What Sontag displays is a rather bizarre take on late-20th-century life and a general disregard for conventional form. Personally, I found that most of h
May 16, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
She writes well, we all know that, but these seem to be exercises in writing techniques, a sort of tour de force. I was put off by the precious and precocious initial story about a high schooler’s tea with Thomas Mann. The second story was incomprehensible snippets about a trip to China I think. The last was about the friends attending an early victim of AIDS. I stuck with it for the sake of my book club but I’m not motivated to read the rest.
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: miniature, femmes

A more comprehensive, text-based way of saying what I'm saying here:

In some ways, I think the brilliant, worldly, perceptive, and formidably erudite Sontag was just too smart to write top-shelf fiction. Some brainiacs can write as well as they can think, but I think there is an intuitive, everyman, ethereal quality to great fiction that goes just beyond raw intelligence. Of course you have to be smart to be a writer, let alone a good one, but some people
V Mignon
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I know the On Photography Susan Sontag. The "shock of sight" Susan Sontag. One who is fascinated with the "chronic voyeuristic relation" we have to the world. I know her as I know myself - collector and hoarder of quotes.

But I don't know the fictional Susan Sontag.

So, one may ask, who is the fictional Susan Sontag? From Debriefing, I can conclude that she is highly experimental in her prose and never has a dull moment. I can say that she is completely and thoroughly American through verse alon
Carol Custer
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
The author is obviously brilliant and a masterful writer but to me, the material seems too wordy and not especially interesting. I enjoyed her use of language and yet it has the feeling of trying too hard. Like - throw lots of words into the mix to sound more intelligent. Perhaps this is just because the stories were written years ago so seem somewhat dated but I found them a bit tedious to read.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Sontag is known for her non-fiction work, and this collection of short stories is certainly a radical departure from the incisive set pieces her readers have come to appreciate. These tales have a bizarre, surreal, unsettling, disjointed quality about them. The only exception is "Pilgrimage", a captivating story about two California teenagers invited to tea at the home of Thomas Mann. ...more
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
In my opinion this book is a good example of what it is called modernist narrative. Susan Sontag has been one of the most important american writers between the Sixties and Eighties (Sontag died in 2004), she wrote many essays - someone of which became very references for the cultured people-, novels, short stories...I believe she is still an icon for many reason – Bookforum magazine has dedicated an his recent cover page to Sontag and her life is still object of interest.
But then what is a ‘mod
Notes of a Curious Mind
3.5 stars

In an interview to Paris Review, Susan Sontag had said that “writer is someone who pays attention to the world.” Writing, she said, demands “a going inward and reclusiveness, just plain reclusiveness.” This seemed to me like a contradiction. How could one be a reclusive and, at the same time, pay attention to the world?

It took me a while – and a lot of reading, therefore reclusiveness – to understand that this, seemingly a contradiction, it was indeed a requisite not only to be aware a
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
This was my first read of any of Sontag's work, and my feelings on it are mixed. I certainly agree with the book's introduction that her work anticipates the modern short story; I can easily imagine reading anything in here in the New Yorker today. The writing is dense and packed with meaning, but it wasn't always easy to decipher.

My main complaint about this book is that the stories are presented without any information about them, and I would prefer to have had at least a reference to the yea
Vel Veeter
Apr 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
I should admit that I am already a little suspect of Susan Sontag’s nonfiction at time, something I will explain more in reviews on her essays and notebooks (if I get around to these), but I am deeply suspect of her fiction for ways that make a lot more sense to me as a reader.

This is an odds and sods collection of short stories by Sontag who wrote four novels in 30 years, winning the National Book Award in 1999 for her novel In America. The collection itself is primarily made up of the stories
Kathy Riley
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, memoir
This collection of short fiction gave me more insight into Songtag, whose essay collections I read a couple of decades ago. I enjoyed several stories in particular: The Letter Scene, loosely connected glimpses of people writing letters for different purposes and results; The Way We Live Now (1986(, a stream-of-conversation story of a man who has AIDS and the impact on friends and family, and Project for a Trip to China. In the latter, Sontag weaves stories of her father's death in China and frag ...more
Dec 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, at-home
Some of these stories were hit or miss for me, but much of her writing, as specific characters, stood out for its affection or humor. Sontag is very effective, in at least a few of these stories, at amplifying emotions at the end of a story about human relationships, like a crescendo of sorts. Some other lines that struck me for their brevity or memorableness or laugh out loud humor:

-- "A boyfriend had to be not just a best friend but taller, and only Peter qualified."
-- "When I was nine, which
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading these stories again after more than 35 years (most of them appeared in Sontag's collection "I, etcetera" ) was a revelation of sorts. This is Sontag, who almost never wrote about herself in her essays, in a surprisingly personal mode. Some stories, like "Pilgrimage" are plainly autobiographical, but the others draw freely on elements of her life as a mother, a single woman, a public intellectual. I was disappointed that this edition didn't include information about when the stories were ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: borrowed, dnf
Whenever I see her quoted, read an interview, or come across one of her better essays - I literally want to be Susan Sontag. She was so smart and independent. I've read two of her novels, and made it halfway through this collection of items that someone generously called stories. Whatever they were, they were not stories. No plots, rarely characters, and generally were just rambling thoughts. A few seemed like stories from her past, memoir like, but since this is fiction, I wondered how much was ...more
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was obviously beyond me. I only read it for book club (which honestly I'm starting to regret book clubs). I've never liked short stories and literature short stories aren't better than pop fiction short stories. I liked the first story about the kids going to meet a writer and the story about the guy who builds a robot to take his place and then the robot wants a robot to take his place. ...more
Not my first attempt at Sontag, but I decided maybe short stories would be the way in. They were good, well written but the stories didn't create any emotions for the characters or for the theme of the stories. I just read words and nicely written sentences and moved on to the next story until I was done. ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Though I was grateful for the opportunity to read this, I am sorry I couldn't finish it. I found it stuffy and boring. I don't like anthologies or short stories. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I couldn't handle this.

Don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself as plenty love this book.
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I hadn’t read Sontag since completing my undergrad degree in 2006, and certainly hadn’t read any of her fiction work. I found myself 50/50 split with these short stories, some I could really get into whereas others just didn’t grab me at all. Inevitably there is a strong philosophical exploration feel to these stories.
Kim Kantor
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
To be fair, I only read half of this book of short stories, but I just couldn’t waste my time reading the rest. It’s for a book club or I would have quit earlier. I just didn’t “Get” most of the stories I read (about six). I did enjoy one, “The Dummy.” I think I need more than a short story to be invested in what I’m reading.
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sontag’s english is quite hard to read, even if I normally have no issues with the language. Many difficult words, but they make the character. And sometimes she’s doing it on purpose, saying it’s her goal to make it untranslatable.
The stories themselves are not always engaging, but the topics manage to surprise and get into the memory.
A nice, not always light, summer’s read
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
No doubt this is not the form Sontag is most formally accomplished in. But something extremely joyful about reading these stories—which are so Sontag and so unlike anything else, as a reminder of not only Sontag’s extreme mastery over the sentence but also that all forms of writing are open to all?
Christopher McQuain
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
***1/2 Incurably aphoristic, abstract, and Kafka and Bunuel-esque. These attributes all put up quite purposeful obstacles that are, far from always but more often than not, worth the exertion demanded.
Kirin McCrory
I just couldn't finish this. I liked a lot of the prose and I found the first few "stories" somewhat interesting, but it just felt like slogging through someone's notes on what to eventually write about--slightly incoherent, somewhat interesting, hard to concentrate on. ...more
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
I like Sontag's mind...but, perhaps after one dies not everything that they wrote needs published. A hard choice...I read one story and then could not read more. I am a Sontag lover, but this was weak for me...though, for some who want to see every bit of her writing it probably is useful... ...more
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Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.

Her books include four novels, The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In Am

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