I have spent the vast majority of my summers in a house on the same street as one of the significant locales in Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, Sag Harbor. In fact, we played tag together as little kids and I’m sure he must have scooped me up dozens of ice cream cones from behind the counter during his summer gig at Big Olaf’s in town. So I was more than a little curious to see what this semi-autobiographical novel was all about. And thankfully it does not disappoint. Because there is nothing worse than struggling through your friend’s unreadable novel (or unbearable play or unlistenable concert) and then trying to figure out how to respond when he (or she) asks you how you liked it. We’ve all been there.
Whitehead (also author of The Intuitionist, John Henry Days and Apex Hides the Hurt, to name the major titles) is a beautiful writer, whose prose in this novel alternately takes your breath away or cracks you up. Which is particularly fitting for a boy-coming-of-age-in-the-80′s story. His descriptions of the people and places that populated his adolescence are so true to the version of Sag Harbor that I remember as to almost confuse me into thinking that this story is the gospel truth, rather than a fictionalized version of one semi-imaginary kid’s journey.
Not that there aren’t quite a few real life events and people thrown in, providing lots of conversation fodder at the beach in recent weeks. But that is neither here nor there. At the end of the day, the novel is a pleasure to read and offers a great deal of insight into the confusing and contradictory world of a young and priviledged African American male growing up in the 1980′s and trying to make sense of his various worlds. Having inhabited a somewhat parallel universe, I appreciate such a sensitive and complex portrayal being out there for people to check out.
Which I highly recommend that you do.