Sag Harbor by Colin Whitehead


One of the things I like about fiction is it’s ability to transport anyone, regardless of color, creed, or national origin to another place, to experience another person’s world view, and learn a little something about their experience. Reviewing this book over Martin Luther King holiday weekend strikes me as ironically appropriate. The book is self-described as Black Boys with Beach Houses. This is not a John Edgar Wideman book, not an urban backdrop to the story. But like the Homewood Trilogy, this book taught me something about America that I did not know.

The book takes place in Sag Harbor, an African American neighborhood of summer houses on Long Island. On the one hand, it is a coming-of-age book. Benji is a fifteen year old, saddled with a younger brother and two parents with professional jobs who summers in a beach house. The book gives a good sense of what upper middle class African American adolesence of privledge is like, for those of us not much exposed to the experience. ‘Sag Harbor’ is set in the mid-1980’s and Benji often juxtaposes his life with the fictional life of the Huxtables of Bill Cosby fame. They share some similar life circumstances, but ramp up the anger and you are closer to what Benji lives with. His parents are not going to be featured in “Marriages to Emulate” any time soon. The book is also about the realities of being black in America, even if you are smart, you have a good job, good social support, and luxuries. Not a lot about that, at least not on the surface, but a little bit of it.
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