Reviews in 200 Words

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

In Novel on May 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm

These are the teenaged things of 1985: roller-skates, triple-scoops, first-jobs, mixed-tapes, boom-boxes, braces, Pall Malls, high-fives, dibs, dag, sheeeeeit, Gummy-Bears, Heath bars, breast-touching, friends with cars, the “new” Coca-Cola and secret shakes. Whitehead describes stuff so well that you actually start missing the 80’s. This novel fits somewhere between John Updike’s “A&P” and Sherman Alexie’s Flight: it’s nostalgic and simple, and in the same breath, it lays out a whole history of racial conflict and oppression. Kids mimic the world’s biggest problems pretty well. Reggie and Benji spend their summers at Sag Harbor: between Southampton and East Hampton. A world where (almost) everyone is on vacation—liberated from something. They take lessons in transforming from city-kids to men, and more specifically from black kids to black men. Benji notices the subtle changes in his friends: none of them really varies much from year to year, but they all get a little closer to becoming themselves. Whitehead makes you want to want to find the nearest hand-dipped milkshake, but he also schools you in the seemingly endless cycle of oblivion that people have for the folks living just down the road.

  1. I’m glad to hear this is worthwhile. I skipped his last book, but I was a big fan of his first two. Thanks for the review.

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