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I had a hard time figuring out what to rate this book. I agree with the reviewers that were disappointed with it's lack of plot, tension, conflict, or any similar driving force. There is one scene where the father is bbq'ing on the beach and it feels like it is building to something, but I don't think it ever did, other than the fact that the chicken didn't turn out too well that day??
The narrative meanders along and at times the descriptions are so long that it feels indulgent and calling out for an editor. This is most apparent in (but unfortunately not limited to) the scene where the main character describes all the types of people that come into the ice cream shop where he works; it goes on for many pages (I read it on kindle so not I am not sure how many, just too many) and it works for a few paragraphs before it just gets annoying. I also found some parts of the book rather confusing. It would jump ahead to the "present time" and say how things worked out or talk about subsequent or previous summers and then, I guess, go back to the particular summer that was the focus of the book. But I wasn't always sure about this, what age the Benji character was, what the year was, and where all the stories fit in relation to each other.
Still, I found many of the stories to be very funny. I would remember them later and have my husband read particular passages because I thought he would also find them funny. Overall, I liked the characters and the stories and the writing, but it bored me in between these funny stories. It wasn't the kind of book I couldn't put down or wanted to keep reading after my subway ride was over, walking down the street with it, trying not to get run over, like I have with other books. I actually read it during a long "vacation" weekend and even with little else to do I didn't always pick it up when I could. So in the end, I suppose three stars is about right. Maybe 3.5 if I had the option - because I do think it's well-written and the characters are mostly likeable and there are some very funny bits and some relateable pieces. I don't consider the days I spent reading this book to be a waste of time, but having read many good things about this book, I expected more.
I picked up this Colson Whitehead book after hearing much about him but never reading any of his works. (I also read Apex Hides the Hurt right before this). Overall I am impressed with his writing but had two issues with this book. The first is that it reads super slowly. It is not a long book but it is not easy to get through either. The second which really isn't a problem per se but annoyed me is that he writes in an angry way--as if the whole world is out to get his characters. That is ironically what makes the book interesting but sometimes I felt it to be kind of annoying.
The book is narrated by Benji who along with his family spends each summer at the NY beach in Sag Harbor. He and his brother are basically left alone by their parents who are not "down" very much. So they inevitably get into a lot of trouble and have to make their way through the hot summers scraping by with not a lot of money and trying to keep their wits intact. Probably the best parts of the book were when Whitehead describes Benji and his friends working at the local waffle ice cream shop. How Benji had no money so he basically ate all his meals there. References to calling shotgun, New Coke, boom boxes, and many other things rang familiar in my ears as I read this book. I can recommend Sag Harbor to anyone who wants to understand Colson Whitehead's writing in a deeper way and to anyone who enjoys novels with an African-American theme to them.
Whitehead has GREAT command of the language. His writing is palpable. But, I waited and waded through page after page of great prose in search of a plot... to no avail. This book may be good insight into an upper-middle class black teen's coming of age in the 70's, but it is NOT a novel in the strict sense of the word. It is a "slice of life" anecdote, and no more. I finished the book, but I would be hard pressed to read another by this author.
I read Underground Railroad, was curious about Whitehead and bought Sag Harbor to see what else he had done. Good read about growing up in an unusual place. The best part of the book is his description of dealing with family tensions.