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Sag Harbor Paperback – June 15, 2010
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The year is 1985 and 15-year-old Benji Cooper, one of the only black students at his elite Manhattan private school, leaves the city to spend three largely unsupervised months living with his younger brother Reggie in an enclave of Long Island's Sag Harbor, the summer home to many African American urban professionals. Benji's a Converse-wearing, Smiths-loving, Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerd whose favorite Star Wars character is the hapless bounty hunter Greedo (rather than the double-crossing Lando Calrissian). But Sag Harbor is a coming-of-age novel whose plot side-steps life-changing events writ large. The book's leisurely eight chapters mostly concern Benji's first kiss, the removal of braces, BB gun battles, slinging insults (largely unprintable "grammatical acrobatics") with his friends, and working his first summer job. And Whitehead crafts a wonderful set piece describing Benji's days at Jonni Waffle Ice Cream, where he is shrouded in "waffle musk" and a dirty T-shirt that's "soiled, covered with batter and befudged from a sundae mishap."
Whitehead pushes his love of pop culture into hyper-drive. Nearly every page is swimming with references to the 1980s--from New Coke and The Cosby Show to late nights trying to decipher flickering glimpses of naked women on scrambled Cinemax. And music courses through the book, capturing that period when early hip hop mixed with New Wave. Lisa Lisa and U.T.F.O make a memorable cameo at Jonni Waffle, and McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"--heard throughout the book in passing cars and boom boxes--gets tagged as "the black national anthem." Like that ubiquitous song, the soulful, celebratory, and painfully funny Sag Harbor and its chronicle of those lazy, sun-soaked days sandwiched between Memorial Day and Labor Day, will stick with you long after closing its covers. --Brad Thomas Parsons
Amazon Exclusive: Jonathan Lethem Reviews Sag Harbor
Jonathan Lethem's new novel, Chronic City, will be published in October 2009, and is his first to be set in Manhattan. He is the author of seven novels including the New York Times bestseller The Fortress of Solitude, which was also a New York Times Book Review Editors Choice for 2003, and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, his stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and the New York Times among others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Maine.
First, an immodest disclaimer: I knew Colson Whitehead was really, really good before you did. That's because we share a publisher, and an editor, and I was sent a copy of his first novel, The Intuitionist, and asked to give advance comment--"a pufferoon," as insiders affectionately call the things--which I gladly did. In fact, I not only admired The Intuitionist, but it was a book that made me immediately feel less lonely. I'd published four novels at that point, and Colson's helped me to feel my particular approach, the sorts of things I was trying to pull off in my novels, wasn't absolutely misconceived. In fact, I wanted to hitch my wagon to Colson's obvious rising star; his first novel was more flawless, more accomplished, than my own first--it might have been more accomplished than my fourth, I wasn't sure. I immediately sought Colson out as a friend, and he's been one of my own most crucial peers ever since.
Colson's books are all quite different from one another in milieu, strategy, and their ultimate effect on the reader, though united by the signal laconic meter in his voice, by their keen sense of form and proportion, by their brilliance. In Sag Harbor he's "gone personal," though I wouldn't want to have to place bets on what is and isn't his own life-material here, or someone else's, or completely confabulated. This is one of my favorite kinds of books, where memory's kinesthetic floodgates open up to illuminate a lost world. It's like a meticulous diorama of the recent past, with the sharp edges of an exhibit in a museum, one where we learn just how strange and specific the universal experience of "coming of age" really can be. The mundane stuff of a Long Island summer here has the power both of a time capsule, and of an allegorical journey into what every human heart endures just trying to vault out of one's family and into the world of art, sex, and kinship that's so near, and so far off. All this, plus the greatest barbequed chicken wing in the history of literature past, present, or future. That's a pufferoon I'd guarantee with my life. --Jonathan Lethem
More from Colson Whitehead
Set over the summer of 1985, Sag Harbor, the fourth book from award-winning writer Colson Whitehead, is steeped in 1980s pop culture. Music plays a vital role in the novel, and in this exclusive annotated playlist Whitehead compiles a lineup of nine essential tracks of the early MTV era, including highlights from The Smiths, Run DMC, Bauhaus, and Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick.
And read our interview with Colson Whitehead as we talk about Sag Harbor and discuss some pop culture hits and misses from the 1980s, grilling tips, McFadden & Whitehead, 12-sided die, and the allure of Twitter.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
His next book, a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker, is called The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death. It will be published in 2014.
Top Customer Reviews
Set in 1985, the story follows 15-year-old Benji over the course of a summer in Sag Harbor. He's a perennial outsider, a black kid at a Mahattan prep school, whose social scene revolves around Bar Mitzvahs, D&D sessions, horror movies, and punk and post-punk music. However, during the summers, the family heads to the family house at Sag Harbor where he's in the midst of a cadre of black friends whom he never sees during the school year. With that context, it should come as no surprise that the book shares the same dominant theme as Whitehead's three other novels -- race and identity.
However, unlike those books, there's almost no story to speak of. The reader merely tags along with Benji as he whiles away the summer, doing typical stupid teenage boy stuff, trying to fit in and trying to manage the transition from kid to adult. While this is a pretty good representation of teen angst, it's not that compelling.Read more ›
Like Benji, the protagonist of Colson Whitehead's "Sag Harbor", I grew up in New York City. The city was my playground. My friends and I wandered the streets, went from playground to playground to play basketball, stickball, or roller hockey. We'd take the subway to Coney Island and spend days on the beach, on the boardwalk and on the amusement park rides. When we were feeling particularly frisky we'd head over to Riis Park at Far Rockaway and try to get a gander at the nude sunbathers. We'd rarely see our parents between sunrise and sunset. I felt in my element. This was my world. Then, when I hit 13 I was sent away to a boarding school. Right when I hit adolescence I was lifted up out of one world and placed by my parents in a new, ostensibly better world. The people I met were alien to me and the disaffection I felt at not quite fitting in was palpable. I spent 9 months longing to return to my universe but when I did I found that being in my old, more comfortable world, did not relive me of the unfettered angst of being a teenager or make me comfortable in a new world where girls, music, Colt 45 Malt liquor and the improbable dream of `becoming a man' still made each day one filled with a mixture of unease and anticipation.
In a very real way this is the same world Benji inhabits. Benji spends 9 months of the year at a Manhattan prep school, a world unlike the middle class world he grew up in.Read more ›
the year 1985, the narrator, ben cooper, looks back. their older sister was in college, and once in college you no longer summered on the beach, not until you have children of your own, benji and his younger brother, reggie, were alone at the beach house, until their parents arrived on the weekends. teenage boys, gangling limbs and braces on teeth, with summer jobs, when not working they filled time watching tv and with their black friends playing video games, shooting bb guns, fighting, finding ways to get beer, on the lookout for girls, and scheming to get into concerts.
as the story stretches on you want to keep reading the often told story of growing up familiar to most of us, compelled by the storytelling of colson whitehead of the bright summer season's darkening and ending with labor day, with humor winding down to pathos.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting read. Enjoyed learning more about Sag Harbor and the history of the summer life there. However, the book was a bit disjointed.Published 3 months ago by Estelle W Harris
good reading, I spent many summers in Sag Harbor in the 50's and 60's, it as As U Rest then.Different time, different experience'sPublished 6 months ago by P. P.
Maybe this book is only relatable to kids who lived a lifestyle similar to the protagonist? The book was pretty boring. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Sora
Nice summer and development study ...nothing is perfect and life goes on...Even if you have to make waffles to pay for your expenses during the summer... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Helmut Steinberg
Since I am a frequent visitor to Sag Harbor, I found the book, especially the map inside,very interesting. More importantly, I like Mr. Read morePublished 18 months ago by mcduff