Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

The entire time I was reading Sag Harbor, I waited for a reason for Benji’s constant judgments. Why was I enduring such a lackluster bildungsroman? Which is what I have to call this book, a coming of age novel, because it tries so hard to be one. For as much as the narrator describes one summer that “changed” his life, not much could be observed as improvement until he gets his braces off 50 pages before the end.
Benji’s family is middle class and black. There are some wonderful references to the accomplishments of black Americans early in the story, “Booker T. came out to Sag Harbor once.” But much of that is forgotten by the time Benji and his 9 month younger brother decide to stop riding their bikes around town; the first day back in Sag Harbor Long Island. 
The premise: middle class black families with summer homes on the north shore. I could step up to my soapbox and wax racial for a minute, but this book doesn’t really deserve a long-winded review. It’s rambling enough. There are redeeming moments of realization: Benji finds a note his mother wrote itemizing the shortcomings of her husband, but these flickers of intrigue are never flushed out. It’s all about Benji trying to figure out his identity. Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t know who I am, or maybe I don’t get it because I’m white.

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