Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
eBook review copy; 448 pages
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is a highly recommended historical fiction novel set in New York City during the Depression and
World War II.
In 1934 Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father,
visit Dexter Styles at his Manhattan Beach home. Styles is with the
mob and Eddie is looking for a job with him so he can leave his job as a
bagman for a crooked union official. Styles insists that people who
come to visit him bring their families, but Anna is the only family
member who can go with Eddie. His wife is at home caring for their
severely disable daughter, Lydia. Part of the reason Eddie wants a job
with Styles is for the better pay, which will enable him to buy a
specially made chair for Lydia.
Years later the world is at war. Anna is nineteen and supporting her
mother and sister by working at the Brooklyn Navel Yard. Her father,
Eddie disappeared five years ago, leaving his family behind with no
word. After seeing divers in the yard, Anna is intrigued and obsessively
sets her sights on becoming the first female diver. It is at this time
that she meets Dexter Styles as an adult, at one of his nightclubs. When
Anna meets him again, she hopes he can tell her what happened to her
The quality of the writing is brilliant. Manhattan Beach manages
to capture the time and place to such an extent that you are transported
there. What starts out as a seemingly simple, well-written novel
evolves into a
much more rich and intricate story following three narratives.
Adding to the depth of the prose is the ocean as an ever prevalent motif
in Manhattan Beach.
It transfixes Anna, transports Eddie. It enthralls, mesmerizes,
destroys, saves, engages, and employees. It offers life and death.
The characters are wonderfully realized and complex. The
strengths and flaws of her diverse characters are firmly established.
Egan has some surprising phrasing and apt, remarkable descriptions that
utterly capture the moment and the emotions and sensations a character
Her characters are allowed to be themselves, full of conflicting
allegiances and emotions, without resorting to clichés.
In the final analysis, however, I do wish that Egan has chosen to keep
the story focused on Anna. While I can logically see the wisdom behind
the choice to branch out and spend so much time on all three narratives,
Anna was the character I was drawn to and cared anxiously about. She
had my fealty and support, while the actions of Styles and Eddie were
more of a passing interest.
My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.