Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Published: October 2017 by Scribner
The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.
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. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.
WWII is a territory that has been written about so much that it’s often difficult to find an unusual take on it. Egan went above and beyond with this novel. Her prose reels us in from the first paragraph and holds us deep in it’s clutches. Some titles in the historical fiction are painfully boring, rest assured; Manhattan Beach is anything but boring.
Egan has crafted 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 main characters Anna, Eddie and Dexter are rich and palpable. Anna shows tremendous strength, courage and perseverance, a woman ahead of her times. Egan explores the ripple effects of the war, witnessing characters who aren’t in the midst of the war but are affected in the Great Depression. At the heart is Anna, who eventually becomes one of the first female divers.
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.
Once again, Egan has delivered a book you cannot put down. She has expertly weaved a portrait of three people’s lives into a seamless story.
Manhattan Beach is compelling tale about fortitude and the will to survive. Such a poignant and compelling novel which is deep in strength and courage and rich in historical detail.