Sag Harbor

Sag Harbor

by Colson Whitehead


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From the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad: a tender, hilarious, and supremely original novel about coming-of-age in the 80s.
Benji Cooper is one of the few black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. But every summer, Benji escapes to the Hamptons, to Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own.
The summer of ’85 won’t be without its usual trials and tribulations, of course. There will be complicated new handshakes to fumble through and state-of-the-art profanity to master. Benji will be tested by contests big and small, by his misshapen haircut (which seems to have a will of its own), by the New Coke Tragedy, and by his secret Lite FM addiction. But maybe, just maybe, this summer might be one for the ages.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385527651
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Colson Whitehead is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad. His other works include The Noble HustleZone OneSag HarborThe IntuitionistJohn Henry DaysApex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. A National Book Award winner and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.


Brooklyn, NY

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1969

Place of Birth:

New York, NY


Harvard College, BA in English & American Literature

Read an Excerpt

Notions of Roller-Rink Infinity

First you had to settle the question of out. When did you get out? Asking this was showing off, even though anyone you could brag to had received the same gift and had come by it the same way you did. Same sun wrapped in shiny paper, same soft benevolent sky, same gravel road that sooner or later skinned you. It was hard not to believe it belonged to you more than anyone else, made for you and waiting all these years for you to come along. Everyone felt that way. We were grateful just to be standing there in that heat after such a long bleak year in the city. When did you get out? was the sound of our trap biting shut; we took the bait year after year, pure pinned joy in the town of Sag Harbor.

Then there was the next out: How long are you out for?—and the competition had begun. The magic answer was Through Labor Day or The Whole Summer. Anything less was to signal misfortune. Out for a weekend at the start of the season, to open up the house, sweep cracks, that was okay. But only coming out for a month? A week? What was wrong, were you having financial difficulties? Everyone had financial difficulties, sure, but to let it interfere with Sag, your shit was seriously amiss. Out for a week, a month, and you were allowing yourself to be cheated by life. Ask, How long are you out for? and a cloud wiped the sun. The question trailed a whiff of autumn. All answers contemplated the end, the death of summer at its very beginning. Still waiting for the bay to warm up so you could go for a swim and already picturing it frozen over. Labor Day suddenly not so far off at all.

The final out was one-half information-gathering and one-half prayer: Who else is out? The season had begun, we were proof of it, instrument of it, but things couldn't really get started until all the players took their marks, bounding down driveways, all gimme-fives. The others were necessary, and we needed word. The person standing before you in pleated salmon shorts might say, "I talked to him on Wednesday and he said they were coming out." They were always the first ones out, never missed June like their lives depended on it. (This was true.) Someone might offer, "Their lawn was cut." A cut lawn was an undeniable omen of impending habitation, today or tomorrow. "Saw a car in their driveway." Even better. There was no greater truth than a car in a driveway. A car in the driveway was an invitation to knock on the door and get down to the business of summer. Knock on that door and watch it relent under your knuckles—once you were out, the door stayed unlocked until you closed up the house.

Once we're all out, we can begin.

My name is Ben. In the summer of 1985 I was fifteen years old. My brother, Reggie, was fourteen. As for when we got out, we got out that morning, hour and a half flat, having beat the traffic. Over the course of a summer, you heard a lot of different strategies of how to beat the traffic, or at least slap it around a little. There were those who ditched the office early on Friday afternoon, casually letting their co-workers know the reason for their departure in order to enjoy a little low-pressure envy. Others headed back to the city late Sunday evening, choking every last pulse of joy from the weekend with cocoa-buttered hands. They stopped to grab a bite and watched the slow red surge outside the restaurant window while dragging clam strips through tartar sauce—soon, soon, not yet—until the coast was clear.

My father's method was easy and brutal—hit the road at five in the morning so that we were the only living souls on the Long Island Expressway, making a break for it in the haunted dark. Every so often my mother said, "There's no traffic," as if it were a miracle. Well, it wasn't really dark, June sunrises are up and at 'em, but I always remember those drives that way—memory has a palette and broad brush. Perhaps I remember it that way because my eyes were closed most of the time. The trick of those early-morning jaunts was to wake up just enough to haul a bag of clothes down to the car, nestle in, and then retreat back into sleep. Any unnecessary movement might exile you from the realm of half asleep and into the bleary half awake, so my brother and I did a zombie march slow and mute until we hit the backseat, where we turned into our separate nooks, sniffing upholstery, butt to butt, more or less looking like a Ror_schach test. What do you see in this picture? Two brothers going off in different directions.

We had recently ceased to be twins. We were born ten months apart and until I went to high school we came as a matched set, more Siamese than fraternal or identical, defined by an uncanny inseparability. Joined not at the hip or spleen or nervous system but at that more important place—that spot on your self where you meet the world.

There was something in the human DNA that compelled people to say "Benji 'n' Reggie, Benji 'n' Reggie" in a singsong way, as if we were cartoon characters or mascots of some twenty-five-cent candy. On the rare occasions we were caught alone, the first thing people asked was "Where's Benji?" or "Where's Reggie?," whereupon we delivered a thorough account of our other's whereabouts, quickly including context as if embarrassed to be caught out in the sunlight with only half a shadow: "He rode into town. He lost his CAT Diesel Power cap at the beach and went to get a new one at the five-and-ten." And the questioner nodded solemnly: Reggie's love for his CAT Diesel Power cap, fostered by '70s trucker movies, was well-known.

There was summer, and then there was the rest of the time. During the rest of the time, before we were separated, you could find us modeling gear from the Brooks Brothers Young Men's Department—smart white Oxford shirts, for example, tucked in during school hours, flapping in soft rebellion when we were home. The elementary school we went to required us to wear jackets and ties, so we did. Our wrists inevitably outran our jacket sleeves despite our mother's attempts at timely hem-jobs. The ties as a species were clip-on, but we had a few that our father tied for us at the beginning of the school year, which we then slid loose and slid tight for the next nine months, knots getting greasier and grubbier as our kiddie fingers oozed into them. We had one blue blazer and one beige corduroy jacket apiece, rotated over gray slacks and khaki pants. I was a little taller, which helped us sort out whose was whose, but not always.

What did we look like, walking down Lexington, across Sixty-second Street, side by side on our way to and from school? I remember one day in the seventh grade when an old white man stopped us on a corner and asked us if we were the sons of a diplomat. Little princes of an African country. The U.N. being half a mile away. Because—why else would black people dress like that? Looking up into his mossy teeth, I croaked a tiny "No" and tugged Reggie into the crosswalk, as my don't-talk-to-strangers/everyone-is-a-child-molester training kicked in. The TV was our babysitter, sure, so finger-wagging movies of the week were our manual on how to deal with strangers. We eagerly riffled through the literature, tsk-tsking and chuckling over tales of neglected white kids gone awry, the sad procession of zaftig and susceptible teenage hitchhikers, the pill-popping honor students turned wildcat over "the pressure to succeed." When strangers stopped us on the street asking questions, we knew what to do. Keep walking, brother. What did he look like? Senior partner in the law firm of Cracker, Cracker & Cracker. What did we look like? I don't know, but his question wasn't something we'd ever be asked in Sag Harbor. We fit in there.

Summers we branched out in our measly fashion. Freed from the dress code, what did we do? As fake twins, we couldn't shake our love of the uniform. Each day we wore the same make of shirt, but different colors, different iron-on decals. Every couple of months our mother bought us some clothes at Gimbels—security cameras capture her foraging for her cubs, murmuring "Two of these, and two of these"—and then tossed them into our cage for us to hyena-yip over who got what. Want the maroon terry-cloth shirt? Get to it first or else you'll be wearing the olive one 'til next Christmas. R2-D2 jammies for you, C-3PO for me. You had to work fast. Dibs was all.

We were a bit of a genre when you pried open a family photo album: There's Benji 'n' Reggie slouching in the beach grass, leaning on the hood of that summer's rented car, huddled on a bench outside the ice-cream parlor. One brother in a powder-blue Izod polo, the other in a crimson Izod drizzled with Rocky Road. Arms noosed around each other's necks, always wearing the same shirts but for that one crucial, differentiating detail that was everything. The same, but a little off, and it was to that crooked little corner of difference that we truly aspired.

Our expressions, picture to picture? Me: pained and dyspeptic, squinting in discomfort at the discovery of some new defect in the design of the world, the thought bubble asking, "Aren't we all just ants under the magnifying glass, really?" and "Is this the passing of our days, so much Pixy Stix dust falling in an hourglass?" The only time "early bloomer" has ever been applied to me is vis-Æ-vis my premature apprehension of the deep dread-of-existence thing. In all other cases, I plod and tromp along. My knuckles? Well dragged.

Say Cheese. And what's Reggie up to? Mugging, of course, cross-eyed, sneering, fingers bent into devil's horns, waving his dented beggar's cup for one extra ounce of precious attention, a rare element in our household. We knew we wanted to be separated but could only bear it in slim degrees. So when our father showed up with knockoff souvenirs from the 1976 Montreal Olympics, I snagged the javelin T-shirt, Reggie reached for the shot-put T-shirt, and we broke out of the locker-room tunnel into the arena of sunlight, summer after summer, members of the same team. It was nice to have a team, even if it was just us two.

Where is the surgeon gifted enough to undertake this risky operation, separate these hapless conjoined? Paging Doc Puberty, arms scrubbed, smocked to the hilt, smacking the nurses on the ass, and well-versed in all the latest techniques. More suction! Javelin and shot put—that's about right. Hormones sent me up and airborne, tall and skinny, a knock-kneed little reed, while Reggie, always chubby in the cheeks and arms, bulged out into something round and pinchable, soft and smooth, where I stuck out in sharp angles. We disentangled week by week, one new hair at a time. Junior high, they called it.

There were no complications on the physical separation, but what about the mental one, to sever the phantom connection whereby if Reggie stubbed his toe, I cried out in pain, and vice versa? The moment of my psychic release was occasioned by Liza Finkelstein's eighth-grade roller-disco party in the spring of '83.

It was bar mitzvah season, a good time to be alive by any measure, but particularly for die-hard finger-food aficionados like myself. As my friends underwent their time-honored initiation rituals, I experienced my own coming-of-age, culinary-wise. I had led a rather sheltered life with regards to bite-sized snacks, having only messed around with Mini Hot Dogs, La Choy Egg Rolls, and other lovelies of the Preheat To 350 school. The racy, catered pleasures of the full-tilt, bank-busting, don't-you-love-me bar mitzvah were a revelation. I remember marveling at the silver hors d'oeuvres trays as they dipped and flitted through the air like flying saucers out of a '50s sci-fi movie, bearing alien life forms I had never reckoned, messengers of gustatory peace and goodwill. Chicken teriyaki on skewers, Swedish meatballs squatting in brown pools, all manner of dipping sauces in dark and gluey abundance—it was dizzying, and that wasn't just the thimbles of Manischewitz talking.

I was used to being the only black kid in the room—I was only there because I had met these assorted Abes and Sarahs and Dannys in a Manhattan private school, after all—but there was something instructive about being the only black kid at a bar mitzvah. Every bar or bat mitzvah should have at least one black kid with a yarmulke hovering on his Afro—it's a nice visual joke, let's just get that out of the way, but more important it trains the kid in question to determine when people in the corner of his eye are talking about him and when they are not, a useful skill in later life when sorting out bona-fide persecution from perceived persecution, the this-is-actually-happening from the mere paranoid manifestation. "Who's that?" "Whisper whisper a friend of Andy's from school.

" "So regal and composed—he looks like a young Sidney Poitier." "Whisper whisper or the son of an African diplomat!"

Eventually I'd have some company when the occasional R&B band showed up to drag themselves through the obligatory Motown retrospective, with the inevitable "Super Freak" thrown in_._._._as Liza Finkelstein, grim and silent, squashed her place setting in her fist and cursed us all. Her parents were civil rights lawyers, not that I knew what that meant, except that it compelled Liza to blurt out "My parents were there!" on that one day a year when a teacher mentioned the March on Washington. Her parents respected all races, colors, and creeds, unless that creed was their own. According to some lefty calculus they had concluded that the traditions of their faith were bogus, and consequently Liza was going to have to wait a while before entering the world of calligraphic invitations and their little guppy RSVP envelopes.

Rebellion trickles down. Liza's "My parents were there!"s diminished in enthusiasm year by year, to be true, but I think it was bat mitzvah season, with its exuberant pageantry and lovely haul of presents, that puckered her to new pouty extremes. To be so exiled. It came to pass that one bright spring morning our hippie English teacher Mr. Johnson mentioned the March on Washington and the assembled of Homeroom 8B instinctively turned to Liza to hear her declaration for the last time. Perhaps we were feeling sentimental. We'd be in high school in a few months, split up after being together—some of us—since pre-K. This was a milestone, and we waited for Liza to give us what we needed. The moments piled up. A suspicion or fear that Liza might not provide her necessary service began to creep across the room in the same way that, gently, menthol cigarette smoke crept from under the door of the teachers' lounge. My eyes fell to her checkered New Wave knee-high socks, and I thought, Liza's not New Wave. Then she sneered a "My parents were there," rolling her eyes and kicking her feet out into the aisle between desks. Liza didn't need the whole bat mitzvah treatment. She was a teenager in that moment.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Sag Harbor, a tender, hilarious, and supremely original novel about coming-of-age in the '80s.

1. How does each of Benji’s comrades (Reggie, NP, Randy, Bobby, Marcus, Clive) contribute to the group? What challenges do they face as friends?

2. Explain the differences between Benji’s age group and that of his sister. During these years, why is the disparity between high school and college so acute?

3. Benji comments that “the rock” on the beach near his beach house serves as a racial barrier. White people won’t walk much further past it. What similar examples can you think of that exist today or in your own community? How have racial barriers changed in the last twenty years? How are they still the same?

4. The emergence of hip-hop is a strong influence in the lives of Benji and his friends. In what ways does music affect their generation? In what ways has music affected your own life?

5. Benji grapples with his identity throughout the novel. At one point he states: “According to the world we were the definition of a paradox: black boys with beach houses. A paradox to the outside, but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it” (Pg. 71).

How is this community a paradox? How is Benji’s identity shaped by the two worlds he inhabits, both during the school year, and then during the summer season?

6. Benji often refers to the handshake, song, and/or dance he will surely conquer by the “end” of the summer. To what degree is he constantly trying to reinvent himself?

7. What do you think are the characteristics of a typical 1980s adolescent? How does Benji fit the stereotype? How is he different?

8. Benji clearly realizes toward the end of the summer that what he loves, is perhaps not the girls he pines after, but his beach home and “what he put into it.” He reflects back on a tender moment with his family and the fond memories of being a child. What is it about our childhoods that evoke such special memories within us? Is there a place from your own past that touched your life as Sag Harbor touched Benji?

9. Throughout the novel there looms a hint of darkness behind the relationship between Benji’s father and his family. His father seems to have a violent strain. How does this affect Benji and his family? What is the role of the father in a young man’s coming-of-age?

10. From Catcher in the Rye to Stand by Me, the coming-of-age novel is a perennial in American literature. What do you think is so appealing and universal about this genre?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit

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Sag Harbor 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 137 reviews.
vivico1 More than 1 year ago
They say if you don't get into a book in the first 50 pages, it's probably not for you. I gave it 80 pages. I wanted to like this book. I liked the characters in the beginning, and the trip down memory lane kept on walking down that lane, relying on touching something that might make us reminisce long enough to just keep going. I need more than that. I need a plot, to know a story is going somewhere, internal or external but going somewhere. This to me after that many pages, was still in the same place. I became bored and the characters also began to bore me, so I had to give it up. Nice writing style, but not my cup of tea.
Mytwoblessings More than 1 year ago
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead isn't a book I would typically have chosen at the bookstore to read. So I'm glad I joined in the Barnes and Nobles First Look Book club experience which exposed me to this story. It is truly a coming of age story during the 1980's. The story struck a chord with me, because even though I was 26 at the time versus Benji's 15, his experiences brought back many memories from that period of time, plus when I was his age. The music, the special handshakes, ditching your best friend for a date, trying to impress the opposite sex, sibling rivalry and of course, trying to fit in. Benji's story not only explores the life of a teenager trying to be a teenager and fit in, but all the issues of family, friends, race and social life. The story is interesting, humorous, thought provoking, heart rendering at times and I highly recommend it.
jclay26 More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderfully written coming of age story. The prose is thought-provoking, humorous, and engrossing. The author uses humor to effectively bring important issues to the reader's consciousness. The author brings the reader back to the 1980's and all the quirky happenings of that time; New Coke - need I say more. We also get a view into the issues that race and class present for teenagers just trying to learn how to fit in to such a complicated world. Also important is the realization and subsequent respect of our history and what generations before us went through and accomplished so that we may live as we do today. It is coming to terms with/recognizing that things we take for granted now were fought for and a price was paid by those who fought for them. The book starts out somewhat light-heartedly and then slowly weaves in the darkness that comes with family dysfunction and alcoholism. It is a well-rounded, funny, and sometimes heart-breaking story of growing up in a world full of choices and consequences.
rosemaryb More than 1 year ago
Colson Whitehead's coming of age novel manages to step back in time to 1985 and catch a year in the life of an affluent black student that will resonate with readers young and old. Benji Cooper is 15, lives a life many would envy. "A Cosby family" with a prewar classic 7 in New York City, Benji has a father who is a doctor and a mother who is a lawyer. And like other affluent families, Benji spends the summer on Sag Harbor in a neighborhood where blacks and whites live separate lives. Whitehead manages to to take us back to a year when life is still sweet for Benji who is coming of age and is handed the luxury of a summer for the most part free of parental supervision. Sag Harbor is an enjoyable read that manages to accurately depict a pivotal year in the life of a young man seeking to learn about girls and himself and how he fits in. The author expertly draws a picture of what life was like for the token black in prep school who gets to escape to a community when every family consists of African-American professionals. So take a trip down memory lane back to 1985 and relive all those moments along with Benji. You won't regret it no matter how old you are!
lsmith3125 More than 1 year ago
A coming of age story set in 1985 might be relevant to my children, but it missed with me by quite a distance. Colson Whitehead's "Sag Harbor" is well written; his language is engaging. But my thrall with the book ended there. Just when I began to think that we were actually getting to an engrossing plot line within the story, Whitehead would add so many historic tangents and examples that I would lose the original point. When he would bring us back, then it was abrupt and anti-climactic. Other factors that would have been interesting to explore, like the effect of his parents rocky relationship on his maturation, were simply glossed over. All that said, Whitehead does have a very comfortable way with words, which is what kept me reading to the end. So as a white, middle-class matron, I feel that I couldn't relate to enough of the story to find some common ground for enjoyment. I hope that you can!
Tasses More than 1 year ago
I've written this review from 42 angles and deleted each one. Reading Sag Harbor was laborious for me. To top it all off, I watched an interview with the author and found him to be really great. I hate that. I don't want to talk crap about his book. Those of you interested in a different slant on the standard coming of age tale might finish this one. I couldn't. And that always makes me feel so small, not being able to appreciate a story. If we read to escape our known world, to learn about peoples and places different from our own, then shouldn't this old, poor, white woman be able to enjoy a witty, funny tale of a rich, black boy? I kept trying, but the sarcastic tone and jumbled scenes were too much for me. Sag Harbor is certainly a different angle on the standard coming-of-age tale, but I'm just not great with rich kids. Example? I kept screaming at Holden Caulfield to 'just go home.'
Jennmarie68 More than 1 year ago
We are introduced to Benji and his family as they make their annual summer long trek out to Sag Harbor. The community of the upper/upper middle class African Americans who want to have their own summer place, just like their white counterparts. The writing style takes a little to get used to but once I was hooked the writing didn't matter only the story did. At times it seemed as if one tale had little or nothing to do with the next but as you step back and look at the story as a whole everything is there for a reason. I quickly grew attached to Benji and short of a few incidents he seems to be a really good kid, just trying to find his place between two societies. The white prep-school kids he's with at school and his black Sag Harbor friends that he shares his summers with. We are also taken into the 80's with catch phrases like "Dag" and the music that is so often referred to in this book. And anyone who's been a teenager can relate to the situations that Benji finds himself in. Overall this is one of the best books I've read recently.
lovetoread75 More than 1 year ago
When this book first arrived in the mail my husband took one look and said, "you aren't going to like this book...I might like it, but you won't." I disagreed with him. However half-way through the book, I realized what he meant. I think it's more of a "boy" book, if that makes sense. I was excited that the book was set in the mid-80's, but in retrospect that had very little to do with the story. In addition I found the growing disconnect within the family depressing. I thought the story started off at a great pace, but quickly slowed almost to a halt for me. I guess all in all, there were not enough parallels between my life and the authors for it to sound any chords in my mind or imagination.
Arlene54 More than 1 year ago
I truly cannot say that this book captured my interest and that I "had" to finish it. On the contrary, I really had to push myself to take the time to read it. Nevertheless, I don't think it is badly written and I am more inclined to think that it is due to the fact that I am not an american and, besides I wasn't raised here. Therefore, I am sure there are many subtles things that I haven't catched; many cultural details I am missing, etc. I can not recommend the book nor could I express a knowledgeable opinion about it.
Ioanna_Brewer More than 1 year ago
The book did NOT hold my interest at all, which I find strange since I was one of those African-American kids who spent my school days in predominantly white schools and my summers in Sag Harbor or Martha's Vineyard. There were too many useless details to keep me interested. I didn't even bother to finish the book.
Cesspria More than 1 year ago
Colson Whitehead is truly very talented, and a master of description. Yes, the book is filled with description, not so much of things, but of events, memories, and experiences. Be prepared to be drawn into his world. It may or may not be one you can relate to, but for me, even though my upbringing was very different, the teenage experience rang true. Isn't being a teenager laregly about overcoming awkwardness and discovering who you are inside your own skin? And yet it happens so slowly and painfully....again, another point that rang true was the dysfunctional aspects of his family...they were there in the background, yet his summer still managed to be about the summer job, the girls, the friends, and the goofing off. If you enjoy a realistic retrospective type plot, rather than high drama, then I highly recommend.
kpud More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time with this book. It is more a set of short stories than an actual novel, and each chapter seems to end before the story is actually over. In each case, I wanted more; I wanted to know what happened! My favorite parts of the books were the descriptions of the summer job the main character held. I had a similar job in high school and I could easily put myself in the Jonni Waffle to see what was going on.
jmc01 More than 1 year ago
Sag Harbor is a very interesting, though sometimes difficult, read. A reminiscing of middle class Afro-American teenagers' summers by the shores of New England. Although very fanciful and funny, the story line did not flow smoothly. I found myself rereading various phases in order to make sense of what was taking place or being said.
JAmber More than 1 year ago
Sag Harbor is the first book that I've read by Colson Whitehead. I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a story about a summer in Sag Harbor and much more. The author goes into great detail and touches on subjects that kept me reminiscing my youth. I was a lot like Benji, I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. The closer I got to the end, the more I kept thinking "I don't want this book to end."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a delightful read, no matter what age you are. Mr. Whitehead has captured a summer vacation on Sag Harbor for Benji, (the main character), his family and friends so well that I feel like I was there. The summer of 1985 for the Community of African-Americans and particularly life for the teens and tweens at Sag Harbor was funny, thoughtful and a re-read for me.
Readingrat More than 1 year ago
Colson Whitehead calls this his "autobiographical fourth novel" and in it he takes the reader back to the Sag Harbor he remembers from the mid 80s. The story is all about fitting in. Our protagonist, Benji, comes from a Cosby-esc family; is one of a few kids-of-color in a private New York Prep school; and spends his summers at Sag Harbor. The book is composed of a series of short vignettes that focus in on Benji's coming-of-age during one Sag Harbor summer. I would recommend this book for book clubs since it raises many issues that I feel would spark some interesting discussions.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
Mr Whitehead gives us his semi autobiographical novel Sag Harbor, in it he describes life as known by Benji a fifteen year old left to his own devices one summer. It's funny and touching and gives us a sense of what it felt like to be him, and I'm glad to have been there for the ride. The writing is impeccable, his use of phrases and his impressions of different scenes made it easy for me to visualize the goings on in the book. Even though the story isn't unique, a coming of age book for a boy, the telling of it is, and it was done with humor and insight that could only come from personal experience. The characters were also outstanding, they were well developed and multi-dimensional which is a real feat being they are mostly compiled of adolescent boys. I would highly recommend this book to any one who enjoys great writing, outstanding humor and a look into what it means to be a boy of 15.
unmainstreammomreads More than 1 year ago
Sag Harbor reminded me of just how painfully dorky I was as a teenager. I think I like reading these kinds of memoirs because they help me remember that I was not alone in my awkwardness. Colson Whitehead (called Benji in this book) struggled with the difference between Sag Harbor, where his family vacationed, and New York, where they lived. The culture and race differences were very noticeable, and in addition to having to grow up, he also had to figure out who he was and where he belonged. While Whitehead did have a tendency to go overboard and get sidetracked with descriptions, I still enjoyed the book and it had many funny moments.
jholcomb More than 1 year ago
This episodic novel follows fifteen-year-old Benji through one summer spent in Sag Harbor's African American community. Largely abandoned by his parents for the summer, Benji navigates traumas like being cancelled on in favor of a girl and triumphs like getting into a concert at an 18 and over club. Looking back as an adult, Benji seems deeply reflective about everything except his own motivations and interests, which often remain opaque. I found myself skipping some of the copious descriptive and historical passages but a few places were laugh-out-loud funny, as when Benji pondered the white fascination with Afro hairstyles. This novel was not my usual cup of tea, but was readable and interesting despite the lack of a coherent plot.
cornwall More than 1 year ago
This writer has a true gift for expression in writing. He explains a situation and a character very well. I just wasn't crazy about the story, and couldn't find the characters ones that I sought more about.
ImBookingIt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a wonderfully written coming of age novel. The main character is Benji, a 15 year old upper middle class black kid. He and his younger brother Reggie are spending the summer mostly unsupervised at their parents beach house in Sag Harbor.The author does a very good job in evoking the time period of 1985. For me, the book was a contrast of the familiar and foreign-- I remember new coke and the fashions, but beach houses and the art of an afro were new to me. I understand family conflict but not the relationships between teen boys.At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to the brothers as being virtual twins, but by the time we come to the summer in question, they have drifted apart, even choosing to attend different schools. We get a look at how this relationship changes, and what being brothers really means to them. The rest of the family is largely kept in the background. We get glimpses of the older sister, and of the relationship between the mother and father. These are not smooth relationships, but we really only see them in the impact on Benji and Reggie, such as when they accidentally find a list their mother made, outlining their father's faults (and there are some big ones on the list).We also see the challenges within their group of peers in Sag Harbor. Some trick of demographics caused there to be virtually no girls within their age group. Watching the interactions between these boys on the edge of being men was interesting. Each of them has his own journey that summer, but they are interwoven as well.The story was narrated by Benji as an adult, looking back on his childhood. Most of the time, the narration is unobtrusive, which made the occasional glimpses we got of the grown Ben more powerful. We read about the friends' mostly innocent adventures with BB guns that summer, then Ben mentions that later encounters with guns were more serious, and talks of the loss of friends. One thing that hasn't come through in this review is that the book is funny, really funny. Whitehead has a light touch which keeps the more serious issues from overwhelming his entertaining look at day to day life. The descriptions of Benji's job at the ice cream parlor and details about the grammatical patterns of their cursing are just a few of the parts that had me laughing while reading.
whjensen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Do you have that special place from your childhood? The one that will always be your first love? For Colson Whitehead, in his "autobiographical" novel Sag Harbor, this place is his family's beach house on Long Island.Sag Harbor covers the teenage summers of Benji ("Call me Ben") as he navigates those painful years of both discovering and inventing who you are, where a single failure can allow others to define who you are without your permission. In the book, Whitehead creates a sympathetic character who is real, who we can associate with, who we can project ourselves onto. And that is his success. By the end of the book, we are thinking not of Sag Harbor but of our own childhood, of our own "beach house" where we escaped our lives and could be who we wanted to be, but ended up being even more of ourselves.Structurally, Sag Harbor is not driven by plot. Although it follows the events of a summer, this is more a device for us to learn about Benji, for Whitehead to show the arc of self-discovery through the events. This can - at times - slow down the novel. But the author's eloquently sparse style keeps it from becoming a burden. He has gathered anecdotes and arranged them in an order that lets us see the progression without showing us the end.A good book.
Suuze on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm sorry I can't finish this book - advance copy or not. I read half of it and feel as if I'm simply wasting my time now, since I have no interest in it. The language made me uncomfortable, and I couldn't identify with any of the characters. I tried, because I like the author's style, but at this point it's simply a waste of my time - and I absolutely *hate* not finishing a book.However, I'm moving on to a book I can truly enjoy.
RachelWeaver on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You know the Seinfeld parody of the J. Peterman catalog? Those travelogues of inanimate objects obsessively detailed to the point of hilarity? That's kind of what this book is like: an absurd, obsessively detailed, romaticized travelogue of human folly. And I honestly mean that in a good way. The man can write the hell out of a sentence, and though he is using the rose-colored glasses we often use to view our pasts, you can tell by the prosaic subjects he chooses--New Coke, Swanson TV dinners, the grammar of teenage insults--that the tint isn't hiding any flaws exactly, they're just putting a slight haze over the proceedings. The juxtaposition of the elaborate detail and the mundane subjects generally results in both insight and hilarity.A standout passage describing holding hands for the first time with a girl at a roller rink:"We were out there forever. How does one measure infinity in a roller rink? You can test the universe by asking questions--how many mirrored tiles on disco balls shooting how many pure white streaks across the walls and floors, how many ball bearings clacking into each other like agitated molecules in how many polyurethane wheels, how many inkblot colonies of bacteria blooming unchecked in the toe-ward gloom of how many rented skates. But let's say this notion of chintzy roller-rink infinity is best expressed by the number two. Two people, two hands, and two songs, in this case, 'Big Shot' and 'Bette Davis Eyes.'"My complaint about this book is that I suspect that it is the victim of the post-James Frey world of publishing. Everyone's too paranoid to publish a memoir these days that uses any sort of creative license, and so this got published as a novel. As a novel, it's a 4-star book. As a memoir, it would have been 5 stars. There are different rules, different plotting techniques required of a novel, and this just doesn't come up to meet those expectations. As a series of remembrances, a soliloquy on growing up and finding yourself when you don't fit into the pre-defined rules of the world forced on you, this book excels. But there is no real plot or story arc, no strong enough tension pulling this together as a novel. Obviously I don't know how much of this self-described autobiographical novel was fictionalized, but I have a pretty strong feeling that not much would need to be changed to call it a memoir and perhaps throw a disclaimer about faulty memory and protecting identities at the front of the book. What best summarizes this book is a passage in which the narrator describes his reaction to his aunt selling the house that he spent summers in as a child: "I was appalled, but you know me. I was nostalgic for everything big and small. Nostalgic for what never happened and nostalgic about what will be, looking forward to looking back on a time when things got easier."
chris227 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great read. Discusses tough issues such as race and family dysfunction but with such a wondeful humor you want to continue reading on. This book crosses generations, race, and gender as it tells its story of adolescence in such a relatable fashion. Anyone who remembers the 80's will find humor in the classic references to such things as 'the new coke" and swanson dinners. A wonderful read!