Manhattan Beach

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Oct 2017

Member Reviews

The review below ran on my blog on May 25, 2018, at https://www.thecuecard.com/books/manhattan-beach-and-ill-be-gone-in-the-dark/

From early on, I was able to get into the story that takes place in NYC in the 1930s and 40s … about a family — 11-year-old Anna and her disabled sister, Lydia, and her mother, and father, Eddie, who comes to work for nightclub owner and mobster Dexter Styles, whom he takes Anna to meet as a child. But then Eddie vanishes from their lives, leaving Anna and her mother to scrape by to make ends meet while taking care of Lydia.

Fast forward years later, and Anna, now 19, is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where eventually she becomes the first female diver repairing U.S. ships for the war effort — when she meets up with Dexter Styles again, which leads to an intriguing rendezvous as she tries to figure out what happened to her father.

The narratives of Anna, her father Eddie, and club owner Dexter Styles alternate throughout the novel and make for a fairly interesting ride into their intertwined and multi-faceted lives. There’s some rich historical detail amid the story and some enticing storytelling that conjure up quite well the underworld dealings, dock life, nightclubs, gender roles and attire of the era and feel of New York around the time of WWII.  I especially found the part of Anna and Dexter taking disabled Lydia to the beach in his car — as well as the scene with Anna and Dexter making a dive with full gear on to the bottom of the bay quite vivid.

All in all many images from “Manhattan Beach” stayed with me and I liked its redemptive themes, many water scenes, and Anna’s perseverance. My only problem with the story was that it was quite drawn out and slow in places where I felt it didn’t need to be. I wanted to cut about 75 pages out of it — to speed it up a bit. I wasn’t a big fan of Eddie’s narrative parts but wished Dexter Styles had had a longer role or more narrative.  I also felt when I got to the end it felt a bit anticlimactic to me — a lot does happen but perhaps it was just how it all came together. So while I liked it quite a bit, I did have a few caveats about it.
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When I had the chance to get a sneak peak of Jennifer Egan's latest, I jumped at it. Although I don't really remember the plot or details of "Goon Squad," I know I loved it... might warrant a re-read if I didn't have so many others in my queue currently.

For me this was the story of Jay Gatsby if he had actually gotten the girl, with a little Unbroken thrown in. As those were two books and themes I loved (WWII and roaring twenties-- although this Gatsby would have survived through the Depression) I was excited to jump in. I learned a lot about the Navy Yard and early-stage diving-- definitely a unique juxtaposition of this with the gangster aspect. However, the only character I really connected with at all was Dexter-- and even then I wasn't drawn in by the story between he and Eddie. I also didn't totally buy into Anna's feelings toward her father-- they seemed sketched for me, while her connection with Dexter somehow made more sense.

Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy.
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I really loved Jennifer Egan's previous books, but this one didn't work as well for me. Maybe after the goon squad, I just expected something different straightforward historical fiction. The characterization and plot development are good, though, and Egan is an awesome writer.
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Perhaps the most accessible of books by Egan, at least among those I've read. The book is worth it alone for its sheer volume of research, much of it conducted in the very place I read most of the book -- Building 92 at Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's one of those gems of a book I feel I can safely recommend to bookish snobs and casual readers alike.
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Should I have included e) None of the above? Possibly… Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach was dull.

Set in New York during WWII, the story follows Anna Kerrigan, who works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Anna becomes the first female diver, repairing war ships.

Egan’s writing is perfectly serviceable. I wasn’t cringing or skimming pages but nor was I entertained. There were no sentences that I re-read for the pure joy of them, nothing to surprise or delight. It was all rather ordinary…which is quite a feat given that as well as the highly dangerous scuba diving missions, there was a war going on, there were plenty of gangsters (doing deals and disposing of bodies), there were love affairs, and there was a missing father and a disabled sister. For a plot that was so ‘busy’, I’m stumped as to why I found it boring.

In terms of the answer to the poll, I was most interested in the bits about diving, and the fact that women were working during the war at jobs that once belonged to men. But while some of the procedural information was interesting, the emotion was absent (and you know I like good writing about water – see Winton or Parrett).

She watched, spellbound, as the helpers lifted a spherical metal helmet over the diver’s head, encasing him within it. There was something primarily familiar about the diving suit – as if from a dream or a myth.

2/5 Disappointing.

I received my copy of Manhattan Beach from the publisher, Scribner, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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A hard one for me to distill. The prose is championship worthy, particularly the dialogue, and the characters are alluring and charismatic. I enjoyed the majority of my time reading this book... however, I was personally not fond of certain elements, such as all the diving and the boating. I struggle to relate to stories set at sea and don't find experiencing it from afar very endearing, for reasons I can only chalk up to as personal quirks (not a good swimmer; I (unfairly) find boats upper class and bland; the vast endlessness of the ocean terrifies me). 

More broadly, my bias against fiction set in the past affected my reading of this as well. I believe the era we exist in is tumultuously evolving at a rapid rate and therefore in need of our best artists to chronicle and help us understand. I say this, mind you, as a writer in the throes of finishing a screenplay set in the past, although firmly concerned with the present (at least I'd claim as much over bourbon that gets me too drunk, or cheap wine I find rather pleasant, or cheap beer I'd wished I hadn't ordered). But I wish Egan had written about the now or the later, not the literarily and cinematically omnipresent World War II era, despite being sympathetic to the fact that technology has rendered so many plots, including this one, unfeasible in the modern era.

As a loner and a lonely person, I take the message of the book, or the message that I stitched together from my interpretation of its words, that we can only exist if we are in conflict and cohort with other people, to heart. 

One final note: in mentioning that I was reading this in conversation and on social media I've discovered that a substantive amount of people seem to have read A Visit From the Goon Squad. Since I know you might ask, no, this isn't that -- it isn't anywhere near as ambitious -- but it is charming all the same. 

And so ends my 15-minute review of a novel that appears to have taken its author 10+ years to research and write. I venture the economics of fiction writing are increasingly a pock-marked boat filling with water.
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I read this book before it began to become popular, but I loved it all the same. I highly recommend adding it to your to be read list!
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I have been waiting to post about MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan because it was chosen as the One Book Two Villages novel for our local public library district, but this seems a good time since tickets are going on sale today (June 1) for the upcoming Fall events with an author visit. In addition, there are several activities in the next few weeks that are related to the book's themes and that offer free registration: After Hours kick-off on Friday, June 8, Airborne on D-Day in the evening on June 13, and Women of World War II Saturday, June 16. A book group discussion (here is the publisher’s guide) is scheduled for early August – see the library website or call for more details.

MANHATTAN BEACH is a work of historical fiction and first introduces readers to 11 year old Anna and her father Eddie Kerrigan as they visit the mansion of Dexter Styles, a man with ties to illegal activities, in mid-1930s New York. Part of the motivation for Eddie to get involved in dubious dealings is the need to support Anna’s sister, Lydia, who has severe disabilities. The story moves on to wartime and the Brooklyn Naval Yard where Anna works and seeks to be the first woman diver involved with repairing ships.  Egan skips back and forth in a somewhat disjointed manner with views from each of the main characters, adds suspense to the story, and explores themes involving family, role of women, resilience, identity and even the impact of technology, making this title (although lengthy at 430+ pages) a possible selection by more mature readers for Junior Theme.
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MANHATTAN BEACH received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal and Publisher Weekly although, frankly, the comments are more mixed from readers on Goodreads and other review sites. Perhaps this is related to expectations and similarities/differences to Egan’s earlier work A Visit from the Goon Squad which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.  Personally, I am eager to participate in the local programs and to share reactions about this title and the historical eras it covers. 

Links in live post: 
http://www.winnetkalibrary.org/manhattan-beach/ 
http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Manhattan-Beach/Jennifer-Egan/9781476716732/reading_group_guide
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4.5 stars.  I held off on reading this book while it was still being highly reviewed (and many of them mixed) and I'm so glad I did because I really enjoyed this sweeping historical novel.  This book is about as different as can be from The Goon Squad, which I also loved, but like her former book is really well written with compelling characters.  Set in New York during World War II, following a young woman, her father and the mobster they were both involved with, this book is so beautiful and I didn't want it to end.  I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Jennifer Egan is best known for A Visit from the Goon Squad, her Pulitzer prize winning kaleidoscopic tale of lives intersecting but not connecting.  Her follow-up novel suffers beneath the burden of a high degree of expectation in consequence - having produced that rarest of creatures, a novel that can be labelled as unique, what was she going to come up with next?  The arrival of Manhattan Beach was therefore something of a surprise; by contrast with the discordant and eclectic Goon Squad, this is an apparently traditional piece of historical fiction centred around an Irish family in 1930s Brooklyn.  The central character is Anna Kerrigan, who we first meet in 1934 as an eleven year-old girl accompanying her father Eddie to visit mobster Dexter Styles, but then the story fast-forwards to her aged nineteen as she trains to be a diver to help the war effort.  In the background another drama plays out as Eddie disappears in the intervening period and the older Anna tries to piece together what has become of him.  

On the surface, this story is apparently simplistic and almost linear but closer examination reveals far more is taking place.  The major focus of the novel is the sea; Anna and her father make their first appearance on a beach going to meet Dexter Styles, years later Anna is able to persuade Mr Styles to help her take her invalid sister Lydia to the beach, she trains as a diver in the sea and the sea is where Eddie may just have met his fate.  Indeed, Eddie observes 'how much of his own speech derived from the sea, from “keeled over” to “learning the ropes” to “catching the drift” to “freeloader” to “gripe” to “brace up” to “taken aback” to “leeway” to “low profile” to “the bitter end,” or the very last link on a chain'.  Over the course of the book, we witness a shipwreck, we walk on the beach, the water symbolising new beginnings, hope, death, rebirth.

As with Goon Squad, Egan continues her fascination with pauses and the unspoken.  Eddie is the bagman, visiting Mr Styles on the behalf of a union official who cannot be seen associating with a known mobster.  Anna does not understand what is going on but senses something beneath the surface.  Later we get to know Dexter Styles much better and witness his meetings with people whose words have very different meanings beneath the surface.  Severely mentally and physically handicapped, Lydia is unable to speak or move, with the question hanging heavy over whether Eddie's disappearance is because of his associates or because he was unable to cope with his younger daughter's presence.  Yet Lydia does speak once more, while visiting the beach with Anna and Mr Styles, her voice reawoken by the sea in a scene that sits like a non-sequitur but nonetheless has a feel of something magical.

Despite all of this, the novel lacks the resonance of Egan's previous book.  Although Manhattan Beach had compelling moments, the overall arc felt somewhat lacking.  The period of the Great Depression looms large in the American national imagination and it did not feel that Egan brought a particularly fresh outlook to the era.  Some of Egan's exposition sits rather heavily, particularly the passages describing the boatyard where Anna starts work as a diver - Egan has done her research and she seems keen that we notice this, unsurprising given that she's been working on the story since 2004 but it does hamper the flow of the story.  I wondered too if the story's long gestation was due to a lack of certainty in terms of direction - is it the story of a daughter looking for her father?  Or of a young woman making her way in a male-dominated field?  Or is it a mobster story?  All appeared to be possibilities but yet Egan never quite appears to make up her mind.

In some ways though, this feels nit-picky - Manhattan Beach did hold my attention until the end and I did find Anna an interesting character.  While it has become commonplace bordering on cliche to disrupt the timeline of a narrative to induce suspense, Egan manages this with an unusual amount of artistry, recreating a sense of the unknowns we face in our real lives.  She plays with the idea of how our own limited perspectives of the over-arching stories of our lives affects our perceptions of events.  With several very ambitious set-pieces, Manhattan Beach has a real cinematic quality and Egan has a clear love for the period.  This may not be destined to be the most memorable in Egan's body of work, but it is still well worth the reading.
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3.5 stars

Unfortunately I don't have much to say about this book because, although I was really into it during the reading process, this is one of those novels that you forget as soon as you turn the last page. It just wasn't remarkable enough. 

I loved the setting and period of time the author decided to portray (surprisingly, since I am not an historical fiction fan) and I loved the writing style but everything else was just lacking of that something that makes you devour a book because you can't do anything else. I'll definitely keep Jennifer Egan in mind, though, because I'd love to read more from her.
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This book was a huge disappointment for me. I had read so many good things about Jennifer Egan that I jumped at a chance to receive an advanced reader’s copy of Manhattan Beach from Netgalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest review. The book started on a good vibe, but as it progressed there were so many ancillary stories that it became distracting. 
The meat of the story revolves around Anna Kerrigan, a young woman in the early part of WWII who goes to work at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, and becomes enthralled with the divers who are aiding the war effort. Women are not allowed to be divers, but Anna persists, and eventually gets the chance to train for that position. When I read the afterword of this book and discovered that Egan had researched this extensively, I was even more disappointed.  Had she cleaved to this story, she would have had a first- class book. 
However, we have a father who has associated himself with a mobster, does a Houdini-esque escape from cement shoes at the bottom of the bay, escapes on a freighter to parts unknown, has a Louis Zamperini lost-at-sea experience that he survives—oh my. Anna goes on to have a child by the very mobster who tried to deep six her father. And the convoluted plot just keeps on going.
Another issue I had with this book was that the characters were flawed, most had major secrets. The only two redeeming people in the book were the disabled sister and the mother, and their parts were minor. Egan ties this big mess up with a pretty bow, as Anna, her young son and her aunt move to the Golden State, to be joined by her long-lost father, and they start on their journey to become one happy family.
I know that my opinion of this book is in the minority, but it is sincere. Egan has the potential for greater things. Perhaps better editing would have pared this down to a well-organized book. Or perhaps the ultimate goal for this book was a movie adaptation, not a great literary piece at all.
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Jennifer Egan has written an involved and beautifully researched historical fiction novel. While it can feel like a departure from some prior works (it will NOT read like A Visit from the Goon Squad, which is my personal favorite Egan book), fans of historical fiction in the vein of Melanie Benjamin and the like will love this. I loved learning about women in New York City in the Depression and WWII eras - I had never heard about the diving programs that occurred. This book is well-crafted and gives enough detail, drama and mystery to keep you reading. 

I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Deception, devotion and diving suits 

We first meet Anna at the age of 12 during the time of the Great Depression. She is accompanying her father, Ed Kerrigan, a union leader and part-time bagman (a courier of the proceeds of illegal enterprises) who is visiting Dexter Styles, a gangster boss with a young family, and it is after this meeting that Anna realises that deception can be advantageous. Anna has a severely disabled younger sister, Lydia, who has cerebral palsy and needs constant attention, and Anna and her mother care for her with unwavering love and devotion. Ed, meanwhile, cannot cope with Lydia’s illness and his financial problems, in spite of augmenting his union salary with the proceeds of his involvement in the crime. He disappears, vanishing out of their lives without trace but leaving many unanswered questions – was he murdered or did he stage his disappearance in order to escape his responsibilities?   

Anna and her mother finally accept the fact that Ed is not coming back, all the while continuing to care for Lydia. Time passes; World War II breaks out, and America joins in on the side of the Allies. Anna, now in her late teens, joins the war effort in the naval dockyard on the instrument inspection team. She meets up with Dexter Styles again, but he doesn’t recognise her and she doesn’t reveal who she really is as she has a gut feeling that he is somehow connected with her father’s disappearance.

While at the Dockyard she applies to join the Naval Diving Unit. Her strength of character and her determination to succeed against all odds – including, at first, the initial male chauvinism she experiences that borders on the insulting, plus having to wear a diving suit weighing 200lbs which is much more than she does, results in her becoming the first ever female diver and the best in her unit. 

It took me a while to get into this book, but I’m very glad that I persevered. The author’s sharply observed characters and clever writing create a fascinating story with several different strands in its DNA – Anna, her father, Dexter Styles – all characters with flaws yet who all have redeeming characteristics. Well, perhaps not Dexter Styles! The fourth strand in the DNA spiral is the sea and its effect on them all. Manhattan Beach is a gripping and satisfying read and I give it four stars.

Bennie Bookworm 

Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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I was eager to read this because of my love for Goon Squad. Historical fiction primarily set at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and NYC during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan goes to work at the Navy Yard to help support her family after her father's mysterious disappearance. I thought the general outline of the story was interesting and loved learning about the Navy yard and Anna's journey; however, there were several story elements that seemed nonsensical to me. Is this time period and setting is appealing, you may be able to overlook some of the flaws. 

I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
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This was very slow-going for me and I ended up putting it down and forgetting about it.
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A historical novel set during and around WWII is something that really appeals to me. 

Unfortunately, reading this novel felt like work.

The story felt contrived and ultimately, it failed to make me care about any of the characters.
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This is the first novel I’ve read by Jennifer Egan and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride! I was immediately drawn into the story and my attention sustained by her beautiful and rich prose. Used to gradually warming to a new novel initially (especially when the vestiges of the last book read still hang on me), I was amazed at how deftly I was sucked into her narrative, very literally from the very first line, like unravelling wool in a jumper (or, a more pertinent simile for this book, like being sucked into a water vortex).

The novel quietly twists and turns, meandering gently but firmly and constantly - I don’t want to give anything away by going into detail about what happens but Egan’s plot comes together so satisfactorily, and yet also so painfully tragically, that you feel no theme has been left untouched, no idea unhandled or dealt with. Emotionally this is a delicate, almost fragile, story and yet its characters force and will charge the whole novel so that it becomes a vibrating action packed experience. The water is a constant theme in this novel – the pull towards to, as means of escape and freedom, and annihilation of self (death). The narrative framework jumps back and forth, in time and from Anna, Dexter and Eddie’s pov – three characters irrevocably linked to one another with very different and deeply touching relationships amongst themselves. 

There is such an eclectic amount of information gathered from reading this novel; from diving during the second world war to gangster life in New York (as well as the particular and clear viewpoint of what it was like to be a young woman in those years – Anna is very empowered and quietly revolutionary).

I wish I could expand on the issues and relationships and events that take place in this novel but I don’t want to ruin the experience I had when I came into contact with Egan’s prose – which was unadulterated by having read other books or reviews etc. I’m so pleasantly impressed by Egan’s talent; I cannot wait to read her other novels – I know I won’t be disappointed.
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The plot description intrigued me, I love historical fiction novels. But this novel was difficult to finish. It was incredibly long, I'd read for an hour and have only moved 2-3% in the book. It took me a lot of dedicated reading to get through this book. The book was also kind of boring, it was very descriptive but nothing ever really happened. There was no compelling action or drama to pull the reader in and feel for the characters. I didn't even feel anything when Lydia died. Just felt like I was waiting for it to end. 

I hate to be so critical and negative of a novel, so maybe I just didn't connect well with the novel. It's not very action based so I found it slow.
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Manhattan Beach has its strong points, particularly the passages about becoming a diver, but overall I just didn't find this novel engaging.
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