Saturday, August 1, 2009

Colson Whitehead - What a Kick!

I just finished reading Sag Harbor by the funniest, wittiest writer and once again find myself asking, where has this guy been all my life? Of course, then I realize that I was probably already an adult when he was born that as it may....Whitehead was a finalist for a Pulitzer for God's sake for another book that I now can't wait to look at called John Henry Days.

Anyway, Sag Harbor, is a coming of age story which, according to interviews with Whitehead, (there are so many it's hard to choose which one to link to)
is a pretty autobiographical novel and something that he put off writing because he didn't want to do what everyone else does - basically, come out with a first novel that's transparently autobiographical. Well, thank goodness, he finally let it out. He is so clever and witty and wry but also extremely astute about the nature of mankind, our fantasies and desires that make us all brothers under the skin.

I have read many books about the black upperclasses that vacation on Martha's Vineyard and wield an incredible amount of power behind the scenes; think of The Wedding by Dorothy West or any of Stephen Carter's books (up til the latest which I can't wait to begin), but this one follows the lives of the middle class, educated, hard working families who summer in the small enclaves on Long Island, where the kids could safely stay alone all week - heaven - and the parents came out on weekends to drink (heavily), sun and barbecue.

Whitehead's alter-ego, Benji, narrates the story of the summer when he was 15 years old, trying very hard to become Ben, torn between the very white bread life he led in Manhattan at his private school, and the street life in Sag Harbor where the boys are just beginning to graduate from bikes to cars and video games to girls. He's also in charge of his younger brother Reggie -oh, can I relate - and is working his first job making waffle cones at Jimmie Jon's Ice Cream.

The author's voice is so authentic and his observations are so sharp that I could barely put this book down. I came to truly care for Ben, learning about him through his interior monologue. I worried throughout the reading that some devastating racial incident was going to transpire to ruin his life or that of his friends. His description of lying around the house on the weekend, trying to stay under the radar, waiting for his dad to go "over the line," letting the gin and tonics take him to a dark , inexplicable side, was so frightning and realistic that it transported me to a time in my life that I'm glad is past.

After finishing the book I found this video link at Amazon and cracked up. The real guy is just as I thought he might be.

He'll be speaking at the Library of Congress Book Fair on the Mall in DC next month. Sure would love to be there!

1 comment:

Infobabe said...

A couple of years ago I included Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist as one of my adult book discussion selections as a first novel. It was very interesting.