Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.
Jennifer Egan is the author of several novels and a short story collection. Her 2017 novel, Manhattan Beach, a New York Times bestseller, was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and was chosen as New York City’s One Book One New York read. Her previous novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times book prize, and was named one of the best books of the decade by Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Also a journalist, she has written frequently in the New York Times Magazine, and she recently completed a term as President of PEN America. Her new novel, The Candy House, a sibling to A Visit From the Goon Squad, was published in April, 2022, and was recently named one of the New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2022, as well as one of President Obama’s favorite reads of 2022.
1 1/2 stars. Um, definitely not what I was expecting from Egan at all... is this really the same author who wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad?
Manhattan Beach feels like several stories in one, all struggling to come together, all lacking cohesion, none of them emotionally engaging. This is a messy book, full of plot points that seem unnecessary and deliberately convoluted. Is it a novel about a young woman navigating a male-dominated world and work force for the first time? Is it a gangster/mob story? Do we care either way? Personally, I didn't.
The first section is the strongest, introducing us to the spirited young Anna and her father, Eddie, who is about to break into the mob business in depression-era America. Anna's care for her disabled sister and her desire to appear strong and capable to her father drives the first few chapters, but it is over all too soon.
Then the novel makes one of many jumps through time and we find ourselves following Anna as an adult woman trying to forge a career for herself and support her family. After this, the book jumps back and forth, from past to present and from character to character, story to story. These jumps contributed to the scattered, almost rambling style of narration. The lack of cohesion really affected my enjoyment of the story and my ability to connect with the characters.
For such a talented author, I didn’t expect to see characters swooping in only when needed for the plot and then departing just as quickly. And it was incredibly slow, but not in the way that the recent Little Fires Everywhere was slow - a slowness that was still compelling, still left you asking questions and needing to know throughout - but slow in that it felt like there was nothing to read for.
I didn't feel like there was any point to the story, anything to question, wonder about, or want to know. Though that was perhaps a result of my inability to care for any of the characters. I was turning pages only to reach the end.
Looking back over the novel, I get an intense feeling of dissatisfaction. Everything is a series of disconnected plot points; many long, slow parts where nothing happens, and even the more action-filled parts were not particularly interesting. Bloodless and forgettable.
2.5 stars, rounded up “Hope became the memory of hope: a numb, dead patch.” This books starts in the midst of the Depression and continues during WWII. Anna is initially a twelve year old and a true daddy’s girl. Then she's working at the Naval Yard during the war and her father has disappeared five years earlier.
The writing here is as good as you'd expect from Jennifer Egan. And she's done her research and the parts of the book describing the Naval Yard and the merchant ships ring true. But for some reason, I had trouble connecting. There was just something missing. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Anna felt a connection with Styles or he with her. The whole book had an incongruous nature to it. Cohesion was missing. I kept waiting for something to tie it all together.
The book moved at a snail’s pace. Long periods of time where nothing much happened. And even the places with activity, the activity just wasn’t all that gripping. You know how when you're reading a good book, you'll do anything to get back to it? Here, I kept finding excuses not to read, which is very odd for me. I kept avoiding the book.
My thanks to netgalley and Scribner for an advance copy of this book.
I can't say I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad as much as the Pulitzer Prize committee or the National Book Critics Circle, or the many five star reviewers on Goodreads, but I liked it well enough to want to give this one a try and I'm so glad I did. It's a very different kind of book than Goon Squad. It's a work of historical fiction beginning around the Great Depression and continuing through the war years. It appears to be well researched and in my view definitely well written. It seems at first that the story will belong to almost 12 year old Anna Kerrigan living in Brooklyn with her family and most times it is. There is a loving attachment to her father Eddie and she is heartbroken when he disappears. It's her story as a loving sister to beautiful Lydia who is unable to walk or speak. It's her story when as an adult, she fights the fight to become the first woman diver to work on ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's her story when she has to make some crucial decisions towards the end of the book. But Anna's story is interspersed with narratives about her father and his past and what has happened over the years he has disappeared and it's also the story of Dexter Styles, a night club owner and mobster who employed Eddie and how Anna becomes connected to him.
It's about fathers and daughters, about men who are flawed, involved in crime but yet are in some ways ambivalent about what they do, leaning in some ways to be good men if you think that is possible. I did. I liked the back and forth of the three narratives and that they were connected and that Egan gives us a piece of history- the depression, the war, the role of women through these well developed characters who in spite of their flaws, I really liked. Solid 4 stars - recommended.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Scribner through Edelweiss and NetGalley.
Do yourself a favor and do not believe the paid reviewers who are giving this good or even somewhat decent reviews. I don't usually curse in my reviews, but the truth is that this is half-assed crap bordering on total shit. The characters are flat, the plot flounders and everything is presented via repeat descriptions of Veronica Lake hairdos and laughably bad James Cagney film dialogue. When characters are no longer needed, they die, move far away or just mysteriously disappear. I also hated the tedious and pedantic descriptions of scuba diving procedures. This isn't literature; it's a lazy/lame daytime soap opera script.
I finished this 4 months ago but the publisher instructed me to not post a review until closer to its publication date so I followed that instruction and waited until the publication date itself: today, 10/3/17. I initially rated it a 2 but I've had time to think about it and it's become a firm 1. It is absolutely the worst thing I've read this year.
This is a hauntingly ambitious historical novel of the sea and New York, set during the Depression era and the Second World War. It is impeccably researched in its period details and well plotted. Anna Kerrigan is 11 years old, with her beloved father, Eddie, as they make their way to Manhatton Beach, and the opulent home of nightclub owner Dexter Styles, a man with ties to the mob. The family are barely getting by, Eddie is a bagman for the union and he wants a job with Dexter. He needs money for his disabled daughter, Lydia, towards whom he has ambivalent feelings. One day Eddie fails to return home, leaving behind a devastated Anna who never gets over this event. There are three disparate and fragmentary storylines in the narrative, shifting in time and place, yet interconnected to reveal the mystery behind Eddie's disappearance. This is a story of the impact of war on women and the opportunities that open up whilst the men are away, class, crime, loss, tragedy and the relationship between fathers and daughters.
Anna goes on to work in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during the war, having to provide for her mother and Lydia. Upon sighting a diver, Anna wants to be one, irrespective of all the obstacles. Anna is a determined and courageous woman, letting nothing stand in her way. Her relationship with Lydia becomes close and tender, revealed in her care of her sister. A night out with a friend at a club brings Dexter into her close proximity resulting in a complex and intimate relationship. Dexter has no idea that Anna is Eddie's daughter and Anna is keen to find out what happened to her father. As Anna dives into sea waters that hide a multitude of secrets, such as treasures and dead bodies, revealed to the diver, so she gets closer to the dark truths that lie behind Eddie, to discover that there is so much she didn't know about him.
Egan gives us detailed insights of New York as a Port city and its importance to the US war effort through the Brooklyn Naval Yard and the specifics of the sea diving operations. She opens our eyes to crime and what might propel a person into a life of criminality. The impact of the war and its impact on women is astutely observed through Anna and her achievements. Oddly enough, the narrative includes the use of powerpoint in a chapter. The oceans and sea are representative of fate, transition, and the immovable forces of life relentlessly moving on. In a story of redemption and reconciliation, Egan captures an era. It is not a perfect novel by any means, for example, I would have liked to have seen more substance behind the disabled Lydia rather than the symbolism of her character in the narrative. This is epic storytelling that I enjoyed reading. Thanks to Little, Brown for an ARC.
It is not as though I had high expectations going into this. Having never read a Jennifer Egan novel before I was bereft of preconceived notions.
But based on the blurb and certainly on the first few chapters I was eager to continue reading what promised to be an interesting well written story.
Set in depression era Brooklyn, Anna Kerrigan is only 12 years old as the story opens. She is accompanying her father Eddie on one of his many errands. This one takes them to Manhattan Beach and a far more privileged lifestyle than anything Anna has known personally or ever been exposed to before. But she senses a nervousness in her father as they approach the beach house that makes her uneasy. It is not like her Dad to be this nervous.
The house on Manhattan Beach belongs to Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner who has ties to the mob but whose marriage also opens doors for him among high society.
Flash forward a number of years and Anna’s father has disappeared. America is at war and Anna has found work at the Brooklyn Naval Yard doing tasks typically performed by men. While there she observes the naval divers and becomes determined to join their ranks as the first female diver.
Let me just say this. The stage is set and there is certainly plenty of fertile soil here for the story to take root and grow.
Add to that, some arresting prose:
He saw a second conning tower fully exposed, three points off the starboard bow. The hard right had brought them toward it.. At that same moment an explosion shook the ship. Hatches blew open, and overhead booms crashed down onto the deck. The “Elizabeth Seaman” shuddered, and her stack disgorged a ball of flame whose orange blaze illuminated everyone on the decks and then floated, crackling like a giant dissolving sun, over the sea. There was a reek of burning oil followed by deep silence as the ship’s engines went still.
Still I never connected with this story or any of its people. They fell flat for me. The story itself switches perspectives and shifts back and forth in time. These transitions were awkward and disruptive every time. It was like patches of story thrown against a backdrop and more or less left as they fell. The pieces are all there, a non cohesive whole, unnurtured, aesthetic less and limp.
My thanks to Simon & Schuster, NetGalley and Jennifer Egan for the opportunity to read this advance copy.
I haven't read the award winning and controversial book by this author, A Visit from the Goon Squad. But I understood, from many reviews, some found it dull, some found it pointless, others found it ultra modern and stylistic, but none really questioned the actual writing (thank the good lord, since it won the Pulitzer).
So, I was thrilled to receive the ARC of this book, eager to dive into the writing of a new-to-me author who had risen to the top of the top in 2011, excited to be one of the first to see what she had come up with this year.
And I found myself reading a ... very typical historical fiction story. Better than a Sara Gruen book (though MUCH longer, so I could forgive Sara Gruen more easily), but along those lines. I won't give you a plot synopsis- the publisher tells you everything you need to know in the description. It is 100% plot driven. I was constantly aware of the story, the fact that the author was bringing me back in time, like everyone was dressed up for a historical re-enactment, or, even Halloween (and felt just as natural). And, I was mainly bored. Did I mention the book was inexplicably long?? That I was untouched by the father/daughter/gangster story? That I was repelled when daughter/gangster developed a quasi-romance? Oh, and that I was bored?
Perhaps it's just a case of mis-placed expectations. Had I been expecting a "story" in depression-era costumes then maybe I might be saying, yep, this hit the nail on the head! But I was expecting more from this Pulitzer award winning author.
Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
That was disappointing. I adored A Visit from the Goon Squad; it was one of my favourite books of last year, so you can imagine how beyond excited I was to read this book - I took my sweet time starting it to be able to read it at the just the right moment, I was so sure I would love this. But I didn't. I enjoyed the first chapter and was ok with the ones following - until around page 150 - when I realized that I have no idea what the point is, what the book is about, what I am supposed to feel. The book is both too narrow and too broad and as a result left me feeling slightly bemused and more than a little disappointed.
The book tells three wildly differing stories: Anna's story and her struggle to find her own place in a world made for men; her father's story and his problems with the mob; and Dexter Styles' story, a nightclub owner with ties to the mob and to high society. These stories are intertwined and related but seem to be set in completely different genres. While I enjoyed Anna and her interactions with her sister and the men she works with when she becomes the first women diver at New York's harbour, I thought the whole gangster story line was both superfluous and infuriating. If it had been cut, the book would have been 250 pages shorter and much better for it.
The jumps in time (which is something I often enjoy) underscored the rambling feeling of this book; they made it near impossible for me to care about what was happening because important events were glossed over or told in an aside. People would disappear, just to reappear in time for them to be needed for plot related reasons; some things made no sense for the characters involved; some plot twists came out of the left field and were left unexplained.
It seems like a book with very many different ideas and many different themes to explore that never manages to become a cohesive whole.
First sentence: "They had driven all the way to Mr. Style's house before Anna realized that her father was nervous."
____ I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest review.
What I was drawn to: The story centers on Anna Kerrigan, and her Irish family, beginning in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, an era and location that should come alive, so much rich history to drawn from.
So, what did and didn’t work for me? I was drawn into this story for very brief periods of time. When Anna was caring for her sister, whose disabilities require constant care and supervision, her devotion to her sister - admirable, and her delight when Lydia showed any positive reaction, charmingly sweet. When Anna’s father took her on a business related house call to a man who lived by the sea. When Anna was with her friend Nell, she came alive, again. When Anna fights her way through the negative view of women doing men’s work in her dreams to learn to dive, she shows her spirit and determination. However, there are also many situations where Anna’s just another character, lost and fading.
It wasn’t really that Anna was a more likable character than the others, it was a mixture of the episodic shuffle of time and place and person, which made the structure of this story feel very disjointed, and possibly even more for me was feeling as though there was a lot of ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing,’ the writing, unnatural and stilted.
I was indifferent at least as much or more than I was interested. The writing is decent, but I did not find it to be above average or lovely. My interest diminished, my attention drifted. My frustration grew.
I am sure that there will be more than a sufficient number of readers who will love this novel. Perhaps I expected too much, but I know I wanted more.
I kind of have mixed feelings about this one. I really enjoyed the writing and there were multiple points through out when I was very into the plot and what was happening. I think the first half of the book was a lot stronger and that I kind of became put off because of the affair Anna ends up having with Dexter. It felt like a stretch that Dexter was killed because his brother in law told his father in law who told Mr. Q who then let him be killed, which is the explanation we're left with. Those two things combined with Anna ending up pregnant just all added up to leave me dissatisfied with how things played out. It just felt like the beginning of the book had been building up to something and then it just petered out. I really liked a lot of individual passages however and I felt the emotional states of the characters viscerally. Definitely want to read more of Egan.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
2.5 stars Manhattan Beach takes place in NY during the Great Depression and into World War II. We meet twelve-year old Anna Kerrigan and her father, Eddie. Eddie's other daughter, Lydia is severely crippled and the family has no money for the wheelchair that she needs. Manhattan Beach is home to a rich gangster, Dexter Styles and Eddie brings Anna to his home, seeking a job that he desperately needs to care for Lydia and his family. Exactly what is Eddie and Dexter's relationship?
The story moves forward and Anna is 19 years old and hasn't seen her father for five years when he suddenly disappeared. Anna is now supporting her mother and sister. Anna eventually meets Dexter Styles again and learns much more about her father and his life.
This book was a slow burner and I was hoping for something in the plot to intrigue me enough to become invested in the characters, but it did not. The story seemed to jump from time periods without anything compelling happening. I was bored at times and really didn't have any reason to keep going except just to finish the book, which I finally did! Easily forgettable, no emotions, no action and no connections.
Arc provided by Edelweiss/Scribner Publication date of Oct. 3, 2017
There are great books about New York and great books about the sea. There are great books about fiercely independent women and great books about gangsters. There are great books about war. There are great books about fathers and daughters, and great books about falling in love. “Manhattan Beach” is a great book about all of these things. I loved every single word.
Jennifer Egan has wisely chosen not to compete with “Goon Squad” and its postmodern razzle-dazzle. Instead, her new book leaps into the past, offering us a story built on sturdy older forms polished to a high sheen.
“Manhattan Beach” — longlisted for a National Book Award even before it was released — is a historical novel set during World War II in New York. The country isn’t entirely in agreement about entering another foreign war, but cue the big band, cheer the troops. This is a nation finally crawling out from under the Depression.
Our heroine is Anna Kerrigan, a dutiful daughter with a well-concealed wild streak. “Her role,” Egan writes, “was to be impervious to the vices around her” — or at least to appear that way. As soon as Anna is old enough, she takes a tedious job working alongside “the marrieds,” measuring machine parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. She’d much rather join the intrepid divers who repair ships in the harbor, but that’s no job for a woman. Fortunately for Anna, the war has depleted the pool of qualified men, which gives her a chance to don a 200-pound diving “dress” and take the plunge.
"What can't she do?" is right. Turns out Jennifer Egan can do anything she damn well pleases, including take 7 years to write a World War II novel that manages to shuck all the expected conventions of writing about those years. There is some amount of mystery here but it isn't a mystery novel, just like there's plenty of history but it isn't a historical novel. Egan's writing has all the pleasure of a comfy blanket on a crisp autumn morning - so what luck that this fall brings a joy like this novel.
Mind-numbingly boring. With few exceptions, the writing was bland. Except for the opening chapter or two, the characters were dull, dull, dull. I didn’t end up caring about anything or anyone by the 48% mark, and from what I gathered from the plot synopsis, I was still waiting for the goddamned story to begin! What a waste of time.
This book tells the story of Anna Kerrigan, born into an Irish family in Brooklyn shortly before the Great Depression. It’s the story of her family too – sister Lydia, mother Agnes and father Eddie – but these other family members flit in and out of the narrative whilst Anna is always present, even when the focus isn't directly upon her.
When Eddie is forced to find a new way of feeding his family – the Depression having seen off his career as a stockbroker – he finds himself becoming a ‘bag man’, delivering mysterious parcels on behalf of a corrupt union official. Eddie often takes Anna with him on these deliveries and the two develop a close bond. She is devoted to her severely disabled sister too, something Eddie finds hard to replicate. Try as he might, he can't help but think what life would have been like had Lydia not been so affected. And through this early part of the book we also learn that Agnes chose to give up her career as a dancer to look after Lydia full-time. Consequently money is very tight. Then things change. We witness Eddie meeting with a local mobster at his Manhattan Beach home. It seems that Eddie might be starting a new job working with him and that this may herald an improvement in their financial state. But very soon Eddie disappears. We're not to learn the detail of his fate for some time.
The first half of the book is quite slow as the narrative develops. First we watch a more grown up Anna working at the shipyard. The nation is at war and she's stuck in a menial job with a group of married women she has little affinity with. But she’s feisty and determined and it isn't long before she sets her sights on becoming a diver. Then we start to learn more about Dexter Styles, the mobster we briefly met earlier. We know Anna and he have met as they had a brief conversation when she attended her father’s meeting with him some years back. Will they meet up again and did he have anything to do with Eddie’s disappearance?
In the second-half the the pace picks up. The timeframe is ever changing as we jump back and forth to monitor current developments and, at last, start to discover what became of Eddie. There are one or two occurrences that challenged my imagination but by and large I found myself launched into a gripping tale that had me turning pages at ever increasing speed.
This book works on a number of levels: as mystery it held me in nervous suspense from the half way point right through to the end; as a commentary on how women and people of colour were treated in mid-twentieth century America I found it be be an enlightening and somewhat disturbing account; as a work of literary historical fiction it contained passages of beautiful prose and descriptions of events that had me riveted to the page. But does it all add up to the sum of its parts? For me, not quite. I liked the character development and I felt invested in the fate of all the family members, but the constant changes in time and focus sometimes left me confused and frustrated. Looking back on it, I can see how the structure helped maintain a sense of suspense and it is an interesting way to absorb a tale – but there were times when I just craved a more straightforward approach the unfolding of the plot.
There's lot to enjoy here and I'm sure others will find joy in elements I found frustrating. But there's no doubt in my mind that Jennifer Egan is a talented writer and I, for one, will be seeking out more of her work.
My thanks to Scribner and NetGalley fro supplying a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I read the blurb for this novel and it sounded right up my alley, so I decided to give Jennifer Egan another go although I didn’t care to finish A Visit from the Goon Squad - her Pulitzer winning novel.
As you can tell from my rating, I didn’t love Manhattan Beach either. A masterpiece, it is not. I wish publishers stopped writing that in blurbs, how about letting the readers and the critics come to that conclusion?
Honestly, reading it felt like work. The writing was very accessible. So what didn’t work for me? A direct and ambitious young woman making her way into the world, wanting to become an industrial diver? It sounds very interesting. And that part wasn’t bad. But there was a whole lot of boring. The changes of timelines and character’s POVs were confusing at times. I could never lose myself in the story, although I got lost several times.
But ultimately, the story was contrived and it failed to make me care about any of the characters.
So this goes on the "disappointing shelf", it only gets 2.5 stars rounded up.
I’ve received this novel from the publisher, Scribner, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
An poignant and compelling novel which is deep in strength and courage and rich in historical detail.
SUMMARY A spirited eleven year-old, Anna Kerrigan accompanies her beloved father, Eddie to the grand Brooklyn beach home of handsome underworld figure, Dexter Styles. It’s a cold winter day in 1934 and Dexter is charmed by the indomitable Anna who delightedly removes her shoes on the beach and puts her tiny toes into the frigid surf. With his family desperately in need of money, Eddie soon begins working for Dexter, serving as his “eyes and ears”. MANHATTAN BEACH is about how the lives of Anna, Eddie and Dexter become intertwined over the course of time and how time continues to move us forward.
In the jump to the next decade we find, Anna as a young woman working in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. She is battling the male-dominated hierarchy to wear a 200 pound diving suit, and become the first woman commercial repair and salvage diver. Eddie had devastatingly and mysteriously disappeared five years earlier. Anna has never gotten over his disappearance and is still awaiting his return. Dexter has become more established and entrenched in his nefarious world, of nightclubs and gambling rackets. And it is in one of his nightclubs that he see’s Anna again. He is somehow drawn to her, not realizing they had met ten years earlier. Anna believes that Dexter might know something about what happened to her father. Anna and Dexter’s relationship reaches its’ peak in a remote boathouse on Manhattan Beach, which ties the destinies of Anna, Eddie and Dexter forever.
REVIEW MANHATTAN BEACH is an absorbing historical fiction novel that exhibits painstaking research and magnificently captures a feeling of the NYC waterfront during the depression and WWII. The emotions in the novel; whether fear, loneliness, pleasure or passion, evoked by Anna, Eddie and Dexter are rich and palpable. Anna shows tremendous strength, courage and perseverance, a woman ahead of her times.
Water plays an central symbol within the story. Whether it was walking on the beach, taking her sister to “see the sea”, watching battleships being built in the naval yard or diving into the silence of the the harbor floor, Anna finds much pleasure as well as solace in the ocean, as do Eddie and Dexter.
JENNIFER EGAN has expertly delivered a portrait of three people’s lives which are altered forever by a winter meeting on Manhattan Beach. She has woven a compelling tale about fortitude and the will to survive.
Jennifer Egan also authored the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. Manhattan Beach has been Awarded the National Book Award for Fiction (2017), and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction (2018)
“Scivolò giù, sempre più giù. Pensava che immergersi di notte non fosse molto diverso dall'immergersi nella Wallabout Bay, che aveva una scarsa visibilità. Ma scoprì che l'opacità fangosa della baia almeno si vedeva. Qui invece non c'era nessuna differenza fra aprire gli occhi e tenerli chiusi. Questo le dava uno strano spaesamento, come se scivolasse verso il nulla o galleggiasse nel vuoto. Quando raggiunse finalmente il fondo, sbattè gli occhi nel buio tenendosi stretta alla corda e si chiese se non fosse scesa troppo in fretta. Uno strattone alla cima di salvataggio, ricambiato, la rimise in sesto. La corrente era decisamente meno forte, sul fondale. Anna chiuse gli occhi e ritrovò immediatamente la calma. Era una cecità che le riusciva sopportabile”.
Ambientato nella New York della fine anni '30 e anni '40, questo romanzo è creato in un mondo privo della cultura dell'immagine e della connessione perpetua: un mondo che ospita differenti universi, il porto navale, il sindacato, le donne, le ballerine, i gangsters, i banchieri, i marinai e i soldati. Egan scrive un libro di lontananza estrema, un libro di distanza nel tempo, un libro di perdita di presenze. Il mare ha le sue vittime, i viaggi e le migrazioni, tiene l'uomo che con la tecnica cerca di abitarlo, di sopravvivere ad esso; e poi certo è il simbolo principale del mistero e dell'inconscio. Quindi il mare di Brooklyn, insieme ad Anna, una donna di origini irlandesi, è il protagonista di Manhattan Beach. Una donna trova nel mare un luogo di trasformazione e di cambiamento, perfino di accesso alla memoria e al familiare: cerca il padre, conosce un amante, ama la madre, la sorella e gli amici, scopre nuove possibilità in sé stessa. La storia composta da Egan è coinvolgente e frutto di ricerca, la sua prosa è sempre coinvolgente, e talvolta porta meraviglia o trascendenza, forse perché resta ancorata alle onde della storia, alle cause del contingente, al concreto sviluppo dei fatti. Indubbiamente Egan narra vicende ricchissime: l'amore nella sofferenza, la lotta delle minoranze, il superamento dei confini, la femminilità forte e poetica. Il mare, come il deserto, cattura il passaggio, lo nasconde allo sguardo, e lo annichilisce. Il testo di Egan ha la struttura di un romanzo storico convenzionale, ma al suo interno siamo nomadi e sognatori dentro innesti di trame e sottotrame, anticipazioni e digressioni e flashback; la Egan ha dedicato dieci anni alle ricerche: la corrispondenza tra impiegati dei Naval Yards, le interviste ai palombari e le storie orali sul sistema bancario e le ombre del mondo della malavita. Il dolce incedere delle donne del romanzo, persino il loro mancare, illumina mirabilmente la fragilità del nostro esistere. Si incrociano i destini e si uniscono inestricabili e ci sono gli inganni di Anna e l'inganno della Egan nel suggerire che le profondità siano tanto buie e oscure, da lasciare una percezione di niente al nostro continuo e persistente sguardo sull'immagine del mondo, sulle parole che scorrono tra le pagine. Ogni tanto siate pazienti, siate antichi; per scendere giù è utile molta calma.
This novel is set in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan is nearly 12 years old. She accompanies her father to the house of a man whom she learns is crucial to the survival if her family. Years later, her father disappears and the country is at war. Anna becomes the first female diver, a dangerous and exclusive occupation repairing ships that will help America win the war. Anna is the sole provider for her mother and her severely disabled sister.
For me, the book started off really well for about 25% then I honestly don't know what happened to make this change. Maybe it was because of all the dead ends and the red herrings. It all seemed a bit underdeveloped. There were parts of the book that were really good and well written. Maybe it's just me, over thinking everything. I'm sure there will be lots of readers who will really love this book and it won't stop me from reading more from the author in future.
I would like to thank NetGalley, Little, Brown Book Group Uk and the author Jennifer Egan for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Anna Kerrigan has a memory of visiting Dexter Styles' lovely home overlooking Manhattan Beach in NYC with her father when she was a young girl. Eddie Kerrigan is a bagman for a gangster, so what business does he have with Mr Styles, who runs several nightclubs? When, in 1937, Eddie disappears, his wife, Anna and her crippled little sister, Lydia must fend for themselves, not knowing why he deserted them, or if he is dead or alive.
Five years later, with WWII underway, Anna is working at the Naval Yard and wants to be a diver--very unusual for a woman--and she must face some roadblocks to achieve that dream. The descriptions of diving are so fascinating; it's obvious how much resource the author has done on the subject!
But just when you think that the story is all about Anna and her trials and tribulations, the story switches to Dexter Styles...and also to Eddie, who, it seems, has been a sailor in the Merchant Marines, a very interesting twist to the story. My step-dad was in the Merchant Marines and would have enjoyed Eddie's harrowing tale. When dad passed away, we were unfortunately not granted permission to have his remains interred at Great Lakes National Cemetery--very infuriating.
"And they're not soldiers, too? They take every risk without a hope of glory: no medals, no five-gun salutes. In the end they're just merchant seamen, hardly more than bums, from the world's point of view. They're the real heroes, I say."
You have to be patient with this story; it takes its time to unfold. It is very rich and detailed. And in these details, Ms Egan adds another interesting layer to what we already know about WWII--that alone makes it well worth reading. I admire the amount of research, interviewing and digging that obviously was required to bring her story to life.
Many thanks to NetGalley, the author and publisher for the opportunity to read an arc of this work for an honest review.
I have previously loved books by Jennifer Egan, so I gave this one more time than I usually would before deciding not to finish. I read the first 35% pretty closely, skimmed up to 50%, and just had to decide this isn't the book for me. I think there were some interesting elements - women working in shipyards, the mystery of the father's disappearance, the sister with health issues - but just when one of these storylines would start to get interesting, the author would divert to more mundane details about something less so. I really thought the sister Lydia's dialogue that starts up around 40% was going to turn it around, and I thought, yes! This is what I'm here for! But that turned out to be a false hope.
This might be for other readers but this just wasn't for me.
This was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Because of this, because I've previously enjoyed Egan, and because it is on the longlist for the National Book Award somehow, I gave it even more time than I would have otherwise.
Set in the 1930s and 1940s, this is the story of Anna Kerrigan, a New Yorker of Irish extraction whose father disappears after working for Dexter Styles, a gangster who owns several nightclubs. Egan focuses on interesting historical side notes such as Anna’s work as a diver at Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWII, but in general her insertion of period detail is not very natural. I couldn’t help but compare this with her previous novel, the highly original A Visit From the Goon Squad, which won a Pulitzer in 2011. By comparison, Manhattan Beach is merely serviceable historical fiction and tended to lose my interest when it went into flashbacks to Anna’s father Eddie’s earlier life or veered away to spend lots of time with Styles. My interest was only ever in Anna, so sections prioritizing other characters felt rather like time wasted. Although there are a couple dramatic twists and the occasional fine descriptive passage awaiting the patient reader, overall this is not a stand-out work. I look forward to Egan returning to what she’s so good at: commentary on contemporary America.
This is not a bad novel at all - but as a whole, it left me rather unaffected.
First of all, I want ro applaud Jennifer Egan for not writing A Visit from the Goon Squad Pt. II -this woman trusted in her talent, went ahead and created something completely different. I really appreciate it when a writer is daring and aims to stay exciting and relevant, so I certainly shed no tears just because this artist boldly changed gears. "Manhattan Beach" is a historical novel and the writing is rather traditional, which is not necessarily bad. And hey, Jennifer Egan certainly knows how to write: She beautifully captures the special atmosphere at Manhattan Beach, while at the same time, she effectively manages to transport the reader to the 1940s.
The book's protagonist is Anna Kerrigan, a young woman who works in a factory that produces military equipment, but dreams of becoming a diver. Years ago, Anna's father Eddie has mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind his wife, Anna and her severely disabled sister Lydia. Egan does an excellent job intertwining the different threads of the story: The changing time levels, Eddie's backstory, Anna's ambition to dive, to live freely as a young woman and to find out what happened to her father, and especially the relationship between Anna and Lydia - that part is just heart-wrenchingly beautfiful. It is also apparent how much research Egan put into this novel - there is simply nothing that feels off, all the little pieces are in place.
Unfortunately, there are some parts where Egan loses herself in her (excellent) descriptions and the text gets a little lengthy. I also hate to say that generally, I did not feel all too engaged in the story (although I have a hard time pinning down why exactly that was the case). What bothered me was that the story was a little disparate - one could certainly claim that life is generally rather disparate, especially when you look at it over longer time spans, but at some points I just wondered: Why exactly is that happening now? Why is that aspect of the story necessary? How do these themes all fit together?
So all in all, I feel like I have a hard time doing justice to "Manhattan Beach". Although this was not a book for me, I still really like Egan and I will definitely read her next novel - who knows what she will come up with then?
I could not help but admire the author’s versatility and bravery in writing such a very different book.
And despite its conventionality (in complete contrast to its predecessor) there is much to admire here: Egan’s strong writing wears the considerable research behind the book lightly - although the diving parts are detailed this do not seem out of keeping for Anna’s narration; the book captures brilliantly a different sense of New York as a sea-facing City; the book conveys the changing social attitudes of the time, the forced acceptance of woman and blacks in previously male dominated areas of society and industry (but still against a background of deep prejudice and with a sense that post War this may prove only a temporary opening); each of the main third party characters – Eddie, Anna and Styles are sketched as complex and nuanced characters, both in their inner thoughts and their interactions with others – Eddie and Anna’s mutual belief that they somehow let down, and were let down by, the other being an example.
However where the novel is weakest is that it seems to be an amalgamation of a number of overly familiar and unoriginal tropes – particularly the gangster TV series/movie and the (in my view excessively long and close to completely redundant merchant navy convoy/u-boat induced shipwreck/fight for survival piece.
Famously Egan was quoted extensively a number of years back as saying that “A Visit from the Goon Squad” was inspired by The Sopranos and by Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time – the Sopranos inspiration being its polyphonic cast structure (with secondary characters coming to the fore) and its lateral sense of plot development. Here unfortunately the Sopranos inspiration is rather more immediate and unsubtle.
Overall an enjoyable read from a clearly talented author – a book with a cinematic feel though (and from me that is never a recommendation for a book).
There is this thing with me and Jennifer Egan books. I feel like I should love them but they don't quite hit right. Even with A Visit From the Goon Squad, the one I liked best, I didn't have the effusive response everyone else did. And yet I keep reading them, waiting to break the cycle. But here we are again, much the same as before.
In this story of a daughter, Anna, whose father disappears under mysterious circumstances, there is a lot to love. If you are a reader of historical fiction, there's so much to dive into: WWII New York City complete with movies, nightclubs, gangsters, and more. I found myself being swept away several times by Anna's life and experience, especially her time working in the Naval Yard, but then I would be un-swept and find myself plodding along waiting to be swept away again.
Ultimately I didn't find a sustainable rhythm. The world is wonderfully built, but as with her previous novels I keep waiting for the prose and the power to turn it into more than the sum of its parts and it never quite happened.
A 3.5 I suppose. I was disappointed by this novel. I really liked Goon Squad, but Manhattan Beach? Meh. Although it was a competent and well-formed novel, it didn't dazzle me. There's nothing glaringly wrong with it, but I was never emotionally invested. It felt overburdened by research, and at times the plot felt like stretch. (The period dialog felt hokey to me at times.)
I live across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, so that was fun, looking out on Building 77, for instance. But I didn't dog-ear pages or particularly look forward to reading this book. I don't really get the hype, except it's Jennifer Egan. She is a talented writer, of course, but Manhattan Beach, to me, didn't really show her talent as it might have. A solid read but not enough fizz.