Manhattan Beach is the awaited novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan. A Visit from the Goon Squad was the book that won her the Pulitzer, and had fans chomping at the bit for this novel. I had heard some mixed reviews that this was quite the departure from her previous work. Some good, some meh… but in the course of a week I had a friend recommend this book to me, then listened to a great podcast episode deep diving it (no pun intended) on Literary Disco.
Here’s a quick synopsis: Meet Anna Kerrigan. A plucky, adventurous girl who accompanies her father to the house of a man who ends up being crucial to her family’s life. Anna observes this man’s (Dexter Styles) lavish lifestyle, and wonders what role he plays in his father’s life. Year’s later, WWII is in full effect, and her father went to work one day and never returned. Anna’s job becomes the sole income for her mother and handicapped sister. Here she has become the first female diver, as they are in need of people… before the war this would not have happened. She repairs ships by diving and welding underwater to send them off to war. Then on a night out on the town, Anna is reacquainted with the gangster Dexter Styles, and is attracted to him with magnetic force that will forever change each of their lives.
“How do you know a gangster?” “Usually, the room goes a little quiet when he walks in.”
The setting of this book was just glorious! Based in New York WWII, you felt the war looming in the background and you see how much the women were effected by the war and how much more independence they gained during this time period out of pure coincidence.
Egan’s ability to time hop throughout the chapters at first seemed confusing, but in hindsight I think that she did this a tool for the reader to feel what Anna was feeling about her life and family. She was confused about the mystery of her father’s disappearance, and what her future would hold. The descriptions of Anna’s underwater escapades were incredible. You could almost hear the sound of the waves, and then the quiet of the underwater as she submerged in her diving suit.
He sealed her faceplate, a cool chemical hiss of air filled Anna’s mouth and nostrils. She descended the ladder backward, then held the descending line and let the harbour swallow her. The current was tremendous, a pull with the force of the ocean behind it.
I had thoughts that this book would be a typical historical fiction story… and it was, but Egan’s writing just felt like so much more. It felt like a story full of symbolism and feeling. I’d be interested to hear what your thoughts are on this one, as I said earlier some people weren’t overly impressed by it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Anywho, friends, that’s all for now!