Cover Image: Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

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Member Reviews

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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I love fiction where I learn something new. Birdsong was one such, where I learned about miners being used to create tunnels for the troops in occupied France. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is another. 

Anna adores her father Eddie and accompanies him when he goes to visit various people ‘for the union,’ his job. Times are tough in depression era New York. Many people have lost their jobs. Eddie has Anna, an extremely disabled younger daughter, and an ex-showgirl wife to support and does whatever he can to make sure there is food on the table. 

Years later America has joined the second world war and Anna works in a munitions factory at the docs, earning some money to support her mother and sister. She harbours a desire to be a diver, to go down into the dark, greasy waters around the navy piers and help to repair the ships that have returned there between sorties. She believes her father, who disappeared years earlier, will one day return, but when she has an ill-judged affair with an older gangster cum club owner, she discovers that her father may be closer than she knows.

I loved this book. I had no idea that New York was so nervous of being hit by the Germans, always believing that they thought the war was something that happened ‘over there.’ I loved the attention to detail Egan provides. Her research was obviously extensive, but she doesn’t ram stuff into the story to show you she knows it. Instead, each detail enriches the sense of time and place in which the story takes place. There are some authors I know who would do well to take a leaf out of Ms Egan’s book.

The characters flew off the page, so perfectly were they described. I adored Anna, a true feminist who wouldn’t recognise that word. She did whatever it took to survive and thrive during these difficult times. I felt great empathy with her, and with her father. 

Dexter Styles, the gangster, was brilliantly drawn. I’d quite like him to have a book of his own as there was such complexity in his character and story.

There is so much more I’d like to say, but I don’t want to give away any of the plot. This is a truly remarkable book and I am grateful to the publisher who gave me a copy of the book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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One of those rare books that you do not want to come to an end.  A future classic, great American novel. The characters are so well crafted and feel so dimensional, that one cares about them all.  It is a coming of age novel that takes place during early to mid-20th century in Brooklyn, extra wonderful because the main character is female. The writing is gorgeous without hitting you over the head with it.  What I mean is that the story thrusts you forward, even while you are aware of being brought along by a remarkably gifted writer.
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The concept of this book was original, seamlessly weaving the lives of multiple characters and the effects of their actions in a beautiful story. Egan captures the magic in an era of conflict, highlighting the way people bond and survive through hardship.
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This book isn’t what I was expecting at all.  I felt like it was all over the place and so much that didn’t connect.  Despite that, there are zero regrets for reading it.
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Anna and her father have a special relationship. When he turns up missing she finds war-time ways to fill the void left by him. What ensues is a poetic journey for many characters, with the climax being a woman who has found what she needed.
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"Manhattan Beach" is a masterpiece.  The book begins in Brooklyn during the Great Depression where we are introduced to Anna Kerrigan.  Anna's father, Eddie, is struggling to keep his family afloat which includes his wife and another daughter, who is seriously ill with a disease that will never improve.  Enter Dexter Styles, a character that will transform all of their lives.
Interwoven beautifully into the plot is Anna's success in becoming the first female diver to serve the US during World War II.
Egan's writing is beautiful, allowing the reader to not only visualize the scenes  but to make you feel that you are diving alongside Anna.   It's a mesmerizing tale to the very end!
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I didn't exactly love Egan's <u>A Visit From the Goon Squad</u> but I was still intrigued enough by the plot blurb for <u>Manhattan Beach</u> and this woman working as a diver at the Navy Yard to give her another shot.  While the prose is definitely "beautiful" and the time period obviously well-researched, I never connected with the majority of these characters.  It's difficult to care much about what's going on in the story when every character feels like a rather dull stranger or their actions come straight out of a "Plot Points 101" pamphlet instead of having the feel of a natural progression of the character's arc and story.  The book follows several different characters during several points in time, but the primary protagonist is Anna, which was great because as this female diver, I was most interested in her.  However, even the diving aspect of this book, which seemed to be a major story aspect (I certainly thought it was from the blurb), is actually fairly minor when compared to the rest of the story.  We spend more time with the merchant marines than actually diving with Anna or reading about her work.  Most of the diving is simply long descriptions of the weight of the diving suit itself.
When I finally reached the last chapter, I was thrilled for it to finally be over.  I just didn't see the point of this story and felt the publisher was selling me a completely different bill of goods than what I actually received.  I want to be able to connect with characters, root for them, and have some sense of satisfaction by that final chapter.  This book fulfilled none of those vital points for me.
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NetGalley for the win! Thanks to the author and publisher for an advanced copy of this book. 


I didn't know much about this book when I requested a copy, but-- it was Jennifer Egan, so of course I was in. While I found the book very different from her other works, that wasn't a dealbreaker. I would read Ms. Egan's shopping list and probably not be disappointed. 

I always appreciate when a book can take me to new worlds - the New York docks during WWI, a merchant marine vessel off the coast of Madagascar, not to mention a woman breaking in to a "man's field". FWIW, Anna Kerrigan makes my rather short list of "badass females" for her time and era. Recommended, but don't expect a fast read.
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I loved this novel. It is a sweeping story in which the protagonist lives in some ways a very simple life. In others, there is intrigue, interest and more excitement. What a joy.
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Not. at all what I,expected, this book was a pleasant surprise.  Egan has done her research and created a detailed, dark story of the criminal underworld in New York city and the transformative effect of WWII.  What does one do to survive.?  The Narrative unfolds using three different voices, adding to the breadth of the story.  
Many of the twists and turns in the plot were unexpected, a few predictable.  Egan manages to give us a story that begins to explore the social transformation in the United States that accompanied, or was caused by World War II.  
Highly recommended.
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As the Second World War rages and the American Navy is desperate to produce and repair ships, Anna Kerrigan gets the opportunity to become a diver in the shipyards of New York. Anna is alone in the world after her father disappeared five years before she lived with her mother and disabled sister but when her sister dies her mother returns to the MidWest. She begins an affair with a married man, a man with links to crime and who may know the truth about her father, but finding out the truth is no consolation.

This is one of the best books I have read all year. Not having read Egan's previously lauded novel I was a little sceptical about the hype but within minutes I was hooked. Anna is a complex character, ambivalent about sex and wanting to have equality, yet launching into a passionate affair with a man who may have killed her father. The setting in the early 1940s is imagined vividly but without too much obvious scene-setting and the longer descriptive parts are excellent - the claustrophobic nature of diving, the loss at sea. Interesting sub-characters appear and disappear and even the ending is not as neat as some authors might make it.
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I have a love/hate relationship with Egan's work. This is the fourth book by her I have read and by far my favorite. A Visit from the Goon Squad completely missed the mark for me, but this one hit the bullseye. I loved the setting, it feels as if Egan researched the Great Depression thoroughly in order to offer a realistic picture of life during that time. I also loved the characters she created and how they wove the plot together. All-in-all, a very satisfying read.
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There's a lot of plot here but nothing's happening.  The story skips around from life during WWII, women working on the waterfront, disability, gangsters, etc. Unfortunately, none of this was written in a way that interested me.  This book was just not for me and I abandoned it. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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Andrew Smith's review Nov 15, 2017  ·  edit
really liked it
bookshelves: netgalley 

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-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.
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Anna watched the sea. There was a feeling she had, standing at its edge: an electric mix of attraction and dread. What would be exposed if all the water should suddenly vanish? A landscape of lost objects: sunken ships, hidden treasure, gold and gems and the charm bracelet that had fallen from her wrist into the storm drain.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is a captivating story with all the atmosphere of a noir film set in Brooklyn during the 1930s and beyond. The story orbits three different narratives: Anna, the tough, courageous young daughter of a wayward lackey who ultimately becomes the first female diver to work at the Brooklyn Naval Yard; Anna’s father Eddie Kerrigan as he comes to terms with his other daughter’s debilitating illness and tries to find his place within the organized crime syndicates of New York; and Dexter Styles, a no-nonsense gangster who grapples with the toll his profession takes on his life.

Each time Anna moved from her father’s world to her mother and Lydia’s, she felt as if she’d shaken free of one life for a deeper one. And when she returned to her father, holding his hand as they ventured out into the city, it was her mother and Lydia she shook off, often forgetting them completely. Back and forth she went, deeper—deeper still—until it seemed there was no place further down she could go. But somehow there always was. She had never reached the bottom.

Anna spends her early years tucked under her father’s wing as he completes various odd jobs for his former union head following the dissolution of the shipping industry at the beginning of The Great Depression. Growing tired of this work and in need of funds to purchase equipment that will improve the life of his other daughter, Lydia, who suffers from a serious, crippling disease, Eddie seeks out the help of Dexter Styles. In his usual manner, Styles requires these initial meets to include the attendee’s family, but ashamed of Lydia, Eddie excuses her and his wife bringing along only Anna. She can sense this meeting is the start of something very important and the image of her father and Styles on the beach near the Styles’ mansion is forever burned into her memory. It is this initial scene that sets the foundation for the remainder of the novel and the various and surprising ways our three narratives intertwine.

She could feel the logic of mechanical parts in her fingertips; this came so naturally that she could only think that other people didn’t really try. They always looked, which was as useless when assembling things as studying a picture by touching it.

Years later, Anna is working as a parts inspector for the Brooklyn Naval Yard—forced into the role of breadwinner following her father’s sudden disappearance. Itching to escape the monotony of this tedious job, Anna is one day memorized by the sight of a diver dressing to plunge into the icy depths of the ocean surrounding the Naval Yard. It is in that moment she realizes where her desires lay, having always been mechanically inclined, she sets out to become the first female deep sea diver and boat repair person. However, in the 1940s she is met with an abhorrent amount of prejudice and gender inequality. Ruthless and unwavering, Anna pushes against the boundaries of life, determined to make her dream a reality.

Her photograph was printed in the Brooklyn Eagle, LADY DIVER SHOWS NORMANDIE SALVAGERS BROOKLYN STYLE, the headline read. Anna was smiling in the picture, hatless in her jumpsuit, the wind blowing her hair from clips Within a day of it appearance, the image seemed an artifact from long ago. She kept it beside her bed and looked at it every night before going to sleep. That is the happiest I will ever be, she told herself. Yet she could enjoy that happiness one more day—like waking from a dream of bliss and being allowed, briefly, to resume it.

Meanwhile, still tormented by the loss of her father—her companion—Anna begins to search for answers, trudging up a memory that niggles in that back of her mind: Styles and her father together on the beach. In an underground dance club, Anna is reunited with Styles—though he does not recognize this young women before him—and together they embark on a journey through which each find what they are looking for, as heartbreaking as it may be.

Masterfully executed, the history of 1930s New York is brought back to life through Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach. Brooding yet exciting, illusory yet grounded, the story of Anna, Eddie and Dexter will transport you to the sandy, briny shore of the Port of New York and all the history therein
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A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Egan's latest offering takes place in America during the Depression.  Twelve-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who she perceives to be important.  Anna can't help but notice the lavish house equipped with servants, toys for the children, and the pact between Styles and her father.  

Years later the country is at war, Anna's father has disappeared, and she has to support her mother and disabled sister with work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Because of the war, women are allowed to work and perform jobs that were traditionally jobs for men.  She becomes the first female diver—an incredibly dangerous occupation—repairing naval ships.  Anna meets Dexter Styles at a nightclub and realizes that he is the man she visited with her father before his disappearance.  Styles has ties to the mob and Anna begins to understand the complexity of her father's life.     

The first section is smart, sharp, and brilliantly executed.  Egan's writing is solid, exactly what you would expect.  Then the novel makes one of many jumps in time and the story becomes scattered.  There is a complete lack of harmony and the reader is left with a rambling narrative that is a mash-up of three stories.  Hinging on boring at times, I didn't connect with the characters, or the plot, and this is disappointing because Egan has obviously done her homework.
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