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Sag Harbor
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Sag Harbor

3.4 116
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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Whitehead's delicious language and sarcastic, clever voice fit this teenager who's slowly constructing himself. Sag Harbor is not "How I became a writer"; there's no hint of Benji's destiny beyond his sharp-eyed way of looking at things, his writerly voice and his desire to provide a historical and sociological context for blacks in the Hamptons. Still, with the story meandering like a teenager's attention, the book feels more like a memoir than a traditional plot-driven novel. It's easy to come away thinking not much happens—Whitehead has said as much—but Sag Harbor mirrors life, which is also plotless. It's an inner monologue, a collection of stories about a classic teenage summer where there's some cool stuff and some tedium and Benji grows in minute ways he can't yet see.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
[Whitehead] captures the fireflies of teenage summertime in a jar without pretending to have some larger purpose…What's best about Sag Harbor is the utter and sometimes mortifying accuracy of its descriptive details…And given the minefield of social and cultural choices that Benji and his friends must navigate, Sag Harbor has unusually good reason to dwell on minutiae.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Detailing the life of a dorky teenager in a community that's peculiar but oddly familiar, Sag Harbor is a kind of black "Brighton Beach Memoirs," but it's spiced with the anxieties of being African American in a culture determined to dictate what that means…The novel's eight chapters are, in effect, masterful short stories, deceptively desultory as they riff on the essential quests of teenage boys: BB guns, nude beaches, beer and, above all, the elusive secret to fitting in. But plot is the least of Whitehead's concerns here. Charm alone drives most of these chapters, the seductive voice of a narrator as clever as he is self-deprecating, moving from one comic anecdote to the next with infectious delight in his own memories.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In what Whitehead describes as his "Autobiographical Fourth Novel" (as opposed to the more usual autobiographical first novel), the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist John Henry Days explores the in-between space of adolescence through one boy's summer in a predominantly black Long Island neighborhood. Benji and Reggie, brothers so closely knit that many mistake them for twins, have been coming out to Sag Harbor for as long as they can remember. For Benji, each three-month stay at Sag is a chance to catch up with friends he doesn't see the rest of the year, and to escape the social awkwardness that comes with a bad afro, reading Fangoria, and being the rare African-American student at an exclusive Manhattan prep school. As he and Reggie develop separate identities and confront new factors like girls, part-time jobs and car-ownership, Benji struggles to adapt to circumstances that could see him joining the ranks of "Those Who Don't Come Out Anymore." Benji's funny and touching story progresses leisurely toward Labor Day, but his reflections on what's gone before provide a roadmap to what comes later, resolving social conflicts that, at least this year, have yet to explode. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Fifteen-year-old Benji has spent every summer since he can remember in Sag Harbor, NY. The rest of the year, he's a black preppie from Manhattan, with a doctor father and a lawyer mother and a younger brother, Reggie. It is 1985, and Reggie gets a job at Burger King, leaving Benji (who would prefer to be called Ben) to hang with his summer friends (the term posse wasn't invented yet), other black prep school refugees. Not a lot happens during those three months. Or does everything happen, all that matters to an insecure, nerdy teen just beginning to recognize the man he might become? Scooping ice cream at Jonni Waffle, riding to the "white beach" with the one guy who's got a car, trying to crash a Lisa Lisa concert at the hip club, and kissing a girl and copping a feel are significant events in a life that encompasses generations of folks who called Sag Harbor home. Wonderful, evocative writing, as always, from Whitehead (Apex Hides the Hurt); male readers especially will relate. Highly recommended. [Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
—Bette-Lee Fox

Kirkus Reviews
Another surprise from an author who never writes the same novel twice. Though Whitehead has earned considerable critical acclaim for his earlier work-in particular his debut (The Intuitionist, 1999) and its successor (John Henry Days, 2001)-he'll likely reach a wider readership with his warmest novel to date. Funniest as well, though there have been flashes of humor throughout his writing. The author blurs the line between fiction and memoir as he recounts the coming-of-age summer of 15-year-old Benji Cooper in the family's summer retreat of New York's Sag Harbor. "According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses," writes Whitehead. Caucasians are only an occasional curiosity within this idyll, and parents are mostly absent as well. Each chapter is pretty much a self-contained entity, corresponding to a rite of passage: getting the first job, negotiating the mysteries of the opposite sex. There's an accident with a BB gun and plenty of episodes of convincing someone older to buy beer, but not much really happens during this particular summer. Yet by the end of it, Benji is well on his way to becoming Ben, and he realizes that he is a different person than when the summer started. He also realizes that this time in his life will eventually live only in memory. There might be some distinctions between Benji and Whitehead, though the novelist also spent his youthful summers in Sag Harbor and was the same age as Benji in 1985, when the novel is set. Yet the first-person narrator has the novelist's eye for detail, craft of character development and analytical instincts for sharp social commentary. Not as thematically ambitious as Whitehead's earlier work,but a whole lot of fun to read.
From the Publisher
“Warm and funny, carefully observed, and beautifully written. . . . Whitehead seems to be having the time of his life.” —The Boston Globe

“Sag Harbor is a kind of black ‘Brighton Beach memoirs’. . . . The novel’s eight chapters are, in effect, masterful short stories [that] riff on the essential quests of teenage boys: BB guns, nude beaches, beer and, above all, the elusive secret to fitting in.” —The Washington Post
“Delicious.” —The New York Times Book Review

"Whitehead has tapped the most classic summer-novel activity of all: nostalgia. . . . The pleasure is in the way Whitehead recalls it, in loving and lingering detail.” —Time

“Surges and sings. . . . Stokes our emotions and intellect at once.” —Dallas Morning News
“Weaves a spell that is by turns enchanting, mood-shifting, and side-splitting.” —Elle
“Lyrical and hilarious.” —Philadelphia City Paper

“By acknowledging that adolescence’s indignities are universal, and that the search for self is endless, Sag Harbor brings this truth home.” —Vanity Fair

“Beautifully written.” —Details

“Imagine a younger version of Bill Cosby, only more lyrical and far racier, with added literary and sociocultural references at his disposal and a greater familiarity with what the book terms ‘the insistent gray muck that was pop culture’ as it seeped through the ‘80s.” —Newsday

“Whitehead has a David Foster Wallace-esque knack for punctuating meticulously figurative constructions with deadpan slacker wit.” —The Los Angeles Times

“All of Whitehead's previous books were various degrees of funny, and Sag Harbor is funnier than all three combined.” —The Village Voice
 “[J]ust as Benji is in the process of remaking himself, one gets the feeling after reading Sag Harbor that Whitehead is taking his first artistic steps away from what has come to be expected from ‘Colson Whitehead.’ And it's safe to say, we're happy, and very lucky, to have both the who he was and the who he'll become out there, telling us like it is.”  —The San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] wise, affectionate novel.” —The Washington Post
“Ebullient, supremely confident.”  —The San Diego Union-Tribune

“He can write sentences like nobody’s business, and the deepest satisfaction in this book full of them is his crafty turn of phrase.”  —Bloomberg News

“Effortlessly readable. . . . Masterful at re-creating the organized chaos of the teenage mind.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet 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.

Brief Biography

Brooklyn, NY
Date of Birth:
November 6, 1969
Place of Birth:
New York, NY
Harvard College, BA in English & American Literature

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Sag Harbor 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 116 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 but...it 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book honestly did not capture my interest. I gave it time and waited for a piece of the story to get me hooked. As I read on it got very boring and there was too much useless detail that dragged on. I was disappointed in the book, but I wouldn't say it was badly written, just not my taste.
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