Sunday, March 5, 2017

SAG HARBOR by Colson Whitehead

Benji, or “Ben” as he would like his friends to call him now, spends all of his childhood summers at Sag Harbor.  What’s interesting about this coming-of-age novel is that Benji and all of his cronies are black, although I found that fact easy to forget.  His insecurities, embarrassments, and self-criticisms are universal as he navigates the road to adulthood during the 1980s while reminiscing about the past.  His nostalgia trip has its ups and downs, including a BB gun incident reminiscent of the movie A Christmas Story.  His is not an idyllic life, however, despite his family’s education and affluence.  His parents’ bickering sometimes escalates to fighting, exacerbated by alcohol.  Benji is close to his younger brother Reggie, but his older sister has bolted at the first opportunity, and their parents seem to be about as warm as icebergs.  In fact, the parents frequently allow the kids to fend more themselves at the beach house, neglecting to pay the electric bill or water bill.  Benji gets a job at an ice cream parlor in order to buy food, and Reggie goes to work at Burger King, mostly to have a refuge from his father, when their parents actually show up.  Obviously, Benji’s hardships are not that serious, and the book recounts several incidents that are quite funny.  My favorite is when Benji discovers his fifth grade school photos and rants about how bad his haircut is.  He laments that the doorman, the bus driver, the school security guard, or his homeroom teacher should have intervened.  “The pane of photos was uncut, of course.  Who’d want a picture of that in their wallet, poisoning their money?”  Actually, I think the real reason the photos were uncut is that his parents were too self-absorbed to consider carrying photos of their children in their wallets, much less notice their son’s hair.

No comments: