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Sag Harbor

Cover of Sag Harbor

Sag Harbor

A Novel
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The warm, funny, and supremely original new novel from one of the most acclaimed writers in America The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in...
The warm, funny, and supremely original new novel from one of the most acclaimed writers in America The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in...
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Description-
  • The warm, funny, and supremely original new novel from one of the most acclaimed writers in America

    The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. He spends his falls and winters going to roller-disco bar mitzvahs, playing too much Dungeons and Dragons, and trying to catch glimpses of nudity on late-night cable TV. After a tragic mishap on his first day of high school—when Benji reveals his deep enthusiasm for the horror movie magazine Fangoria—his social doom is sealed for the next four years.
    But every summer, Benji escapes to the Hamptons, to Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own. Because their parents come out only on weekends, he and his friends are left to their own devices for three glorious months. And although he’s just as confused about this all-black refuge as he is about the white world he negotiates the rest of the year, he thinks that maybe this summer things will be different. If all goes according to plan, that is.
    There will be trials and tribulations, of course. There will be complicated new handshakes to fumble through, and state-of-the-art profanity to master. He will be tested by contests big and small, by his misshapen haircut (which seems to have a will of its own), by the New Coke Tragedy of ’85, and by his secret Lite FM addiction. But maybe, with a little luck, things will turn out differently this summer.
    In this deeply affectionate and fiercely funny coming-of-age novel, Whitehead—using the perpetual mortification of teenage existence and the desperate quest for reinvention—lithely probes the elusive nature of identity, both personal and communal.

 
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Notions of Roller-Rink Infinity


    First you had to settle the question of out. When did you get out? Asking this was showing off, even though anyone you could brag to had received the same gift and had come by it the same way you did. Same sun wrapped in shiny paper, same soft benevolent sky, same gravel road that sooner or later skinned you. It was hard not to believe it belonged to you more than anyone else, made for you and waiting all these years for you to come along. Everyone felt that way. We were grateful just to be standing there in that heat after such a long bleak year in the city. When did you get out? was the sound of our trap biting shut; we took the bait year after year, pure pinned joy in the town of Sag Harbor.

    Then there was the next out: How long are you out for?--and the competition had begun. The magic answer was Through Labor Day or The Whole Summer. Anything less was to signal misfortune. Out for a weekend at the start of the season, to open up the house, sweep cracks, that was okay. But only coming out for a month? A week? What was wrong, were you having financial difficulties? Everyone had financial difficulties, sure, but to let it interfere with Sag, your shit was seriously amiss. Out for a week, a month, and you were allowing yourself to be cheated by life. Ask, How long are you out for? and a cloud wiped the sun. The question trailed a whiff of autumn. All answers contemplated the end, the death of summer at its very beginning. Still waiting for the bay to warm up so you could go for a swim and already picturing it frozen over. Labor Day suddenly not so far off at all.

    The final out was one-half information-gathering and one-half prayer: Who else is out? The season had begun, we were proof of it, instrument of it, but things couldn't really get started until all the players took their marks, bounding down driveways, all gimme-fives. The others were necessary, and we needed word. The person standing before you in pleated salmon shorts might say, "I talked to him on Wednesday and he said they were coming out." They were always the first ones out, never missed June like their lives depended on it. (This was true.) Someone might offer, "Their lawn was cut." A cut lawn was an undeniable omen of impending habitation, today or tomorrow. "Saw a car in their driveway." Even better. There was no greater truth than a car in a driveway. A car in the driveway was an invitation to knock on the door and get down to the business of summer. Knock on that door and watch it relent under your knuckles--once you were out, the door stayed unlocked until you closed up the house.

    Once we're all out, we can begin.


    My name is Ben. In the summer of 1985 I was fifteen years old. My brother, Reggie, was fourteen. As for when we got out, we got out that morning, hour and a half flat, having beat the traffic. Over the course of a summer, you heard a lot of different strategies of how to beat the traffic, or at least slap it around a little. There were those who ditched the office early on Friday afternoon, casually letting their co-workers know the reason for their departure in order to enjoy a little low-pressure envy. Others headed back to the city late Sunday evening, choking every last pulse of joy from the weekend with cocoa-buttered hands. They stopped to grab a bite and watched the slow red surge outside the restaurant window while dragging clam strips through tartar sauce--soon, soon, not yet--until the coast was clear.

    My father's method was easy and brutal--hit the road at five in the morning so that we were the only living souls on the Long Island Expressway, making a break for it in the haunted dark. Every so often...

About the Author-
  • Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He has also written a book of essays about his home town, The Colossus of New York. A recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in Brooklyn.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Picture a newly painted white beach cottage under an azure sky in mid-July. Perfect, right? And so are this delightful novel about an adolescent's perennial summer haven in the Hamptons and the buoyant, irresistible narration supplied by Mirron Willis. Willis easily surmounts the trickiest requirement of the production--the tone of an adult voicing a teenager's perspective. How? Willis sounds just like an adult whose imagination returns to him to his youth as he describes what he experienced with all the same wonder, insecurity, and hopefulness he had then. On top of all that, Willis is alive to Whitehead's hilarity as he recounts young Benji's reactions to all the small and large issues that preoccupied him that summer of 1985--from race and coolness to braces and girls, siblings and peers, and the foreign universe in which adults reside. M.O. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine
  • Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook
    "Pure shimmering brilliance. Colson Whitehead's affecting new novel joyously lights up a place, a time, a family, and one unforgettable young man. It is also one of the funniest books I've ever read, a book loaded with the kind of humor that can only soar off a heartbreaking sadness."
  • Boston Globe "Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists."
  • USA Today "No novelist writing today is more engaging and entertaining when it comes to questions of race, class, and commercial culture than Colson Whitehead."
  • Ishmael Reed, Washington Post Book World "[Whitehead] takes on a multitude of issues with a rich and probing imagination. His reputation is likely to soar."
  • The Nation "[Whitehead] writes wonderfully, commanding a lush, poetic, mellifluous prose instrument."
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A Novel
Colson Whitehead
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