Benjamin recalls the summer of 1985 in the black vacation community of Sag Harbor. That year he was fifteen, he had his first summer job, and he was dealing with upheaval at home. The novel covers that summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, all the ups and downs and adventures and transformative experiences.
Whitehead’s writing is so textured and evocative, it’s really a joy to read. His description, whether it’s of a day at the beach, a fistfight, canned soup, the intricacies of a group of friends growing older, or Coke Classic, they’re all so rich and layered.
The story is based on Whitehead’s own experiences, and it shows in the warmth and intimacy and affection of the storytelling. It’s hilarious, too, and the writing is so beautifully evocative of a very specific time and place. Whitehead’s got a real gift for detailed observation.
Sag Harbor is a glimpse into a life and lived experience that I’ll never know as a white New Englander, but it’s insight that I really appreciate having. On top of that it’s just a really great What Happened That Summer narrative with a fantastic narrator and wonderful writing.