Dream of death suggests itself as a metaphor for divorce

“…..flying to New York to see her lover Ivan after dreaming about sucking a rabbit bone to its marrow on his Manhattan balcony.” Susan Taubes – Divorcing

This is a line from the 1969 novel Divorcing written by Susan Taubes (pictured above with her family). Shortly after its publication she committed suicide at age 41. The book was re released in 2020. It is the subject of a deep and thorough review by Leslie Jamison, herself an accomplished writer who went through her own divorce last year.

Divorcing was published two years after Susan Taubes own divorce was finalized.

Taubes and the author Susan Sontag were close friends. Sontag’s son David Rieff wrote the introduction to the newly released edition of Divorcing. Taube’s body was identified by Sontag. Years later Sontag told her own son, “I will never forgive her…and never recover from what she did.”

Susan Taubes III 4.28.2021.jpg
David Rieff and Susan Sontag

The review is fascinating for the insights it provides about the author Susan Taubes and the entire subject of Divorce. It really got me to think about the subject in a manner I had not previously. Plus, Leslie Jamison is an excellent journalist.

Susan Taubes II 4.28.2021.jpg
Susan Taubes 1928-1969

Excerpted from New York Review of Books – 5.13.2021 Issue – Leslie Jamison

Susan Taubes’s novel Divorcing begins with the death of its main character. Sophie Blind wakes up in an apartment by the Hudson River, still groggy from a dream, or perhaps still dreaming, to find her lover bending over her, saying, “you’re dead Sophie.” Then she remembers:

I died on a Tuesday afternoon, struck by a car….

The sensation of my head severed from my back is still vivid. My body growing enormous, its thousands of trillions of cells suddenly set free, spread, speeded, pressed jubilant.

It’s a vision of death that holds terror and freedom at once: the body enlarged rather than destroyed, its cells liberated. “Spread, speeded, pressed”: even the sibilance suggests a vaulting song.

Given that Sophie is in the midst of ending her marriage, this dream of death suggests itself as a metaphor for divorce: the death of an old self suddenly confronting the vertigo of freedom. And given the biography of Sophie’s creator, it feels less like metaphor and more like warning.

Susan Taubes IV 4.28.2021.jpg
Divorcing – Susan Taubes

Only a few days after Divorcing was published, in November 1969, Susan Taubes committed suicide by drowning herself in the Atlantic. It’s hard not to read much of the novel as an extended suicide note. “Now that I’m dead,” Sophie jokes with her lover, “I can write my autobiography at last.”

Although her suicide happened soon after her novel’s publication—and even sooner after a devastating review in The New York Times, a timeline that invites causal speculation—Taubes had in fact been planning it for some time; she had struggled with depression for years. She was forty-one when she died, her son sixteen, her daughter twelve. Her body was identified by Susan Sontag, one of her closest friends. Years later, Sontag told her own son, David Rieff, “I will never forgive her…and never recover from what she did.”

Divorcing is a strangely provocative and unsettling work of art—a quilt of memories, dreams, arguments, trysts, snippets of motherhood, and dark fantasies, including an autopsy, a funeral, and a trial. The novel moves across national borders—her working title was To America and Back in a Coffin—and zigzags constantly between gruesome daydreams and mundane daily life. The thresholds that obsess it most are death and divorce, the latter as a kind of death-in-life. Both dangle the prospect of simultaneous anguish and liberation; both illuminate Sophie’s desire for self-possession.

It begins to feel like travel, sex, fantasy, divorce, and death are all handmaidens of the same siren call—to keep changing at all costs. As if Sophie and Taubes herself both embodied Sontag’s pronouncement that “I am only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation.”

I found the perfect music to accompany a review of Divorcing. A piece from the 2006 film directed by Robert DeNiro, The Good Shepherd. It’s titled Miriam, conducted by Marcelo Zarvos and Bruce Fowler. If you view the film you will see that this haunting creation fits right in with the character Miriam in the story line. It is apropos as a soundtrack for Divorcing.

A link to the entire article.


Leslie Jamison