Feature

Novel of the week: Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead's story of 15-year-old Benji Cooper's summer hanging with other middle-class, African-American kids in a Long Island beach enclave is the author's “most enjoyable” novel to date.

(Doubleday, $24.95)

The 15-year-old protagonist of Colson Whitehead’s new novel knows that the world has trouble categorizing him, said Adam Mansbach in The Boston Globe. Benji Cooper spends nine months a year in a mostly white Manhattan prep school and his summers hanging with other middle-class, African-American kids in a Long Island, N.Y., beach enclave established by their grandfathers. Though “little actually happens” in Benji’s life during the summer of ’85, his reminiscences about it add up to Whitehead’s “most enjoyable” novel to date. “Warm and funny” and “beautifully written,” Sag Harbor makes Benji’s riffs on slang, New Coke, and bad pop music matter because they show him “finessing a workable identity.” Unfortunately, Whitehead’s taste for “indistinct” heroes worked better in earlier novels, said Greil Marcus in Bookforum. Here, it means even Benji’s cleverest riffs don’t give readers enough reason to continue. But that astute voice can be reason enough, said Gene Seymour in Newsday. “If you know in advance” that Sag Harbor is faithful to the uneventful spirit of most teenage summers, its languorous pleasures should win you over.

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