I’m usually pretty good about getting a review up right after I finish the book, but with classes starting, this one’s taken me awhile! I tried to find another book (The Underground Railroad) by this author at the library, but as it’s just been chosen as Oprah’s book club pick, there was a considerable waitlist. This book was available, and I’m glad I chose it.
Title – Sag Harbor
Author – Colson Whitehead
Page count – 329
This was a really interesting book. It’s written from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy, and teenage boys’ minds are kinda weird. The characters follow through the entire thing, but each chapter almost reads like a separate short story. It chronicles Benji’s summer of 1985 spent at his family’s beach house in Sag Harbor (a real location in the Hamptons, NY, but I don’t know if the story itself is based on real life events). Sag Harbor is a place where “a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own” (according to the back cover’s description). Benji talks about the seasonal rituals all the beach-going families perform, his relationships and adventures with his teenage friends, first jobs and first kisses, and of course, the teenage boy trifecta: BB-guns, boobs, and beer.
Whitehead’s style of writing Benji’s experiences, dialogue, and inner commentary was like nothing I’ve read before. Here’s a sample of Benji explaining his musical tastes (Reggie is his younger brother, Elena his older sister):
“I didn’t buy rap – I heard it all the time, Reggie and Elena had all the good stuff, so there was no reason to spend my allowance on it. Rap was a natural resource, might as well pay for sunlight or the very breeze or an early-morning car alarm going off. No, I spent my money on music for moping. Perfect for drifting off on the divan with a damp towel on your forehead, a minor-chord soundtrack as you moaned into reflecting pools about your elaborate miserableness. The singers were faint, androgynous ghosts, dragging their too-heavy chains across the plains of misery, the gloomy moors of discontent, in search of relief. Let’s just put it out there: I liked the Smiths.” (p. 78).