The Way We Live Now Style and Technique

Susan Sontag

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sontag allows the portrait of Max and the responses of his friends to his disease to filter gradually through the many voices of her story. No voice is dominant. Max is rarely heard speaking in his own voice, although his plight is discussed in nearly every sentence of the story. Consequently, the blending and clashing of voices reveals a society in argument with itself, testing ways of responding to AIDS, advancing, then rejecting, certain attitudes.

As in real conversation, voices overlap one another so that one statement is interrupted by another, and one speaker merges into another: He seemed optimistic, Kate thought, his appetite was good, and what he said, Orson reported, was that he agreed when Stephen advised him that the main thing was to keep in shape, he was a fighter, right, he wouldn’t be who he was if he weren’t, and was he ready for the big fight, Stephen asked rhetorically (as Max told it to Donny), and he said you bet.

In this example, the views of several friends are heard, and dialogue is recapitulated in what Max tells Donny. Sentences contain speeches within speeches, a complex layering of social and psychological observation that is emphasized by long sentences that continually switch speakers, so that a community of friends and points of view is expressed sentence by sentence.

It is the rhythm of these voices, of the ups and downs in their moods, of the phases people go through in responding to the...

(The entire section is 408 words.)