Cover Image: Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

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Member Reviews

This book felt like about 10 books in one!  It's well-written and obviously well researched to reflect the times of the Depression and World War II.  The characters are realistic and the stories are compelling.  The narrative flows from character to character through different times and situations.  Some of the happenings are quite surprising but they felt true to the story and the times.

As the book ended, I wondered if we will see a continuation of Anna's story.  The author certainly left room for that possibility.  I hope it happens!
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Jennifer Egan sets <i>Manhattan Beach</i> in the Brooklyn of the 1930s and 1940s.  <i>Manhattan Beach</i> features prohibition and its aftermath, the rackets, the Irish and Italian working class, the rarified Brooklyn gentry, and, of course, World War II.   Anna Kerrigan, her severely disabled sister Lydia, her mother Agnes, and her father Eddie live modestly, with her father seeking out what’s essentially white collar work with a racketeer in order to provide better for his family and to purchase a desperately needed wheelchair for Lydia.  The heartbeat of <i>Manhattan Beach</i> is Anna and her father’s love, mutual understanding, and camaraderie; Anna’s love and care for Lydia; and Anna’s and Agnes’ endurance after Eddie’s disappearance.   <i>Manhattan Beach</i> is largely a romance:  Anna’s romance as a a girl and then a woman with Brooklyn and particularly the Brooklyn waterfront; Eddie and Agnes’ deep romantic attachment to each other; and Eddie’s intense paternal attachment to Anna and his guilt about his hesitant relationship with Lydia.  Yet <i>Manhattan Beach</i> is also a fully credible historical novel, recounting the wartime hardships of the Brooklyn naval yards and the constant needs for and dangers of ship warship building and repair, as well as the story of a determined young woman taking on the demands of a brutally dangerous and physically taxing job as a naval diver.  With nuance, Egan portrays the ethnic, racial, and gender relationships of the Brooklyn of the 1940s as a convincing backdrop.

Jennifer Egan performs a neat trick with <i>Manhattan Beach</i>:  not only does she set it in war-time Brooklyn, but somehow she manages to provide an almost aural and visual feel for life in war-time Brooklyn.  Reading <i>Manhattan Beach</i> brought to mind the feel of the serial radio dramas of the 1940s and 1950s:  high drama, constant forward movement of plot, and brightly drawn characters. Comparing <i>Manhattan Beach</i> to <i>A Visit from the Goon Squad</i>, the only other Egan novel that I’ve read, makes me wonder at Egan’s fluidity as a fiction stylist:  one novel feels just so utterly contemporary, and the other novel feels so convincingly the Brooklyn of the 1930s and 1940s.  Perhaps Egan is a literary shapeshifter, and I’m left eager to read her earlier novels and whatever she writes next.

I would like to thank Simon and Schuster, and NetGalley, for making <i>Manhattan Beach</i> available to me.
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Scribner and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of Manhattan Beach.  I was under no obligation to review this book and my opinion is freely given.

Young Anna Kerrigan lives with her father Ed, along with her mother and disabled sister.  A trip with her father to visit Dexter Styles at his house on the beach creates such an impression on Anna that it changes her whole future.  When her father disappears and Anna becomes the sole provider for the family, will she be able to follow her dreams?  Will she finally unlock the secrets to her past?

Manhattan Beach is a compelling story, but the flow is interrupted frequently by the backstory of Ed Kerrigan.  I was much more interested in Anna and her quest to do a man's job.  As the first female diver in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Anna's strength and determination to succeed should have been the main focus.  The addition of the relationship that pops up for Anna did not fit the character as it was written up to that point.  For me, it was there strictly to move the plot in a certain direction, but this could have been accomplished in a different way.  Anna's struggle to find her place in a male dominated field should have remained the focus of the story, with her desires to help her family and a burning passion for a job well done.

It is clear that author Jennifer Egan did extensive research on the naval yards, as well as the criminal element.  The placement of historical events and the feeling of the times were on point, making the book more relevant.  The attempts to humanize Anna, to bring her more in line with young women during this time period, lessened her character.  Manhattan Beach was a good read and those who like historical fiction might find it interesting.
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Having thoroughly enjoyed A Visit from the Goon Squad, I was eager to read Egan's latest work; the history student in me says, "Bravo!" while the reader in me was ready for this one to be finished about 100 pages before it ended. With intelligent, painstakingly descriptive writing, it is obvious that Egan put her heart and soul into this novel; I would have loved to have been involved with the research process for this story because I love this time period. Nevertheless, I struggled to stick with it until the end which, thankfully, is redemptive.
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Expert writing once again from Egan, and an interesting plot line, but I had a hard time connecting with the story overall.
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Wonderful book by the brilliant Jennifer Egan. The writing is beautiful, the story is sweeping, and Egan does a fantastic job of putting you in very specific places and times.
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I apologize but I did not have any time to read this book before the publication date.  No review
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I wasn't sure I would enjoy this novel since the time period is not one of much interest to me. Boy, was I wrong! Manhattan Beach is so much more than a story set during the 1940s. Author Jennifer Egan has created a story that draws readers and holds their attention long after the last page is read. Thanks to the author's detail character building, this novel is not only historical fiction, but it's a tale of love, redemption, bravery and personal strengths and weaknesses. The heroine is fascinating, standing out not only for her quest to become a diver in a man's world, but for her strength to build her own life. The two men most important to her are different in their own ways, but similar in their fight to escape their past.
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I put off reading this because I'd read too many not so flattering reviews but because I'd requested to view it, I felt I should at least attempt to read it.  Although quite different from "A Visit From The Goon Squad" , this is a beautifully written story.  I absolutely loved it, was a joy to read .
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This is a phenomenal story.  It is set in the fifties in New York and the author's description of the city and especially the waterfront made me actually feel the atmosphere of that time and place.  The story is about a young girl and how she meets a man who employs her father and later as an adult encounters him again. She certainly remembers him but he doesn't but he doesn't recognize her.  I don't want to give anything away but what happens next is really astounding. I highly recommend this book.  It's five stars from me!
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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.
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A wonderfully told historical fiction story that explores the complexity of poverty and how we find ways to survive in the face of disaster. The way Egan addressed how the consequences of our chosen survival methods can affect not only ourselves but those we love is so well and truthfully told that I respected her need to stay true to realism and avoid the starry-eyed plotline. A triumph!
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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan - I thank Net Galley for the opportunity to read this novel.  This book was a challenge for me to finish.  A few of the sections were interesting and smooth to read. But then there were sections where words made no sense.  I know it was a different time but felt a special dictionary for 1940's language should be attached.
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Thanks to Scribner and Netgalley for the advanced reader copy of Manhattan Beach. What I enjoyed most about this book was the shipyard/diving parts, I’ve always been interested in the work women took on during WWII ala Rosie the Riveter. As for the rest of the story, I didn’t find it to be that great. I could not relate well to the main character, Anna and I found some of her actions unbelievable. Along the same lines, some of the things that occurred in the novel seemed very far-fetched and I spent more time thinking about that than enjoying the story.
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I couldn't get into it. Sorry! I put it down fiftyish pages in. It's not the book; it's me.
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{My Thoughts}

What Worked For Me
Old Movie Quality – Many times when I was reading Manhattan Beach I felt a sort of old noir movie vibe going on. I pictured the whole story in black and white, especially the nightclubs and bars, filled with the beautiful people and run by gangsters. The era, spanning the depression to the end of WWII, lent itself to the old-fashioned feel, with Egan’s beautiful writing adding another rich layer.

A Girl with Gumption – For the most part I liked Anna Kerrigan, the young woman at the heart of Egan’s story. Her family had been dealt some hard blows including a vanished father, and Anna did everything she could to make life better for her mother and crippled younger sister. Anna’s desire to become a diver felt real and her course to achieve that goal was one of the parts of this book that I liked best. Everything about Anna’s quest to become a diver was interesting.

Themes of Change and Redemption – Both Dexter Styles and Eddie Kerrigan came to be on quests for redemption. Both had made decisions in their lives that they’d begun to regret, but neither found change an easy path to walk.

“…Dexter felt the protesting part of himself – angry, eager to be done – slide abruptly away. He settled into the project of providing this accursed creature an experience of the sea. He absorbed the importance of it, the singleness of the task. It was a relief.”

Like Dexter and her father, Anna also sought to make-over her life.

What Didn’t
A Slow, Slow Pace – I’m so sorry to say it, but for me Manhattan Beach was just plain slow. I almost quit at about 67%, instead I rallied and kept going. Throughout the book there were times when it felt like the pace was about to pick up, but then? It didn’t.

Under-developed Characters – I never felt like I really knew or understood any of the three primary characters, making some of their actions almost incomprehensible. Egan spent a lot of time on side characters who seemed to pop in and out of the story when the plot needed to move. A tighter focus on the primary characters might have saved Manhattan Beach for me.

Vanishing Character – Eddie was missing for much of the book and then suddenly took over. Why? His story dominated the second half and was filled with characters who meant nothing to everything else that had been happening.

Implausible Actions – Had I known the characters better some of the choices they made might have been a little more believable for me. As it was, the book required me to suspend disbelief too many times to really enjoy the story.

{The Final Assessment}

Rarely do I write such a negative review, but I did finish Manhattan Beach and my commitment is to reviewing books I finish. I admit, I probably should have quit on this book, but just never could quite believe it wasn’t going to turn the corner into brilliance. For me it didn’t, but Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly can’t all be wrong. I look forward to hearing what others think of Jennifer Egan’s latest. Grade: C-

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest opinions.
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A wonderfully cinematic story (please let there be a film!) whose themes of growing up in the USA at a time of war and great socio-cultural change are underpinned by the currents of time and tide in a literal and metaphorical way.
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I loved this book.  It's probably the best Or within the top five books I've read in 2017...and I'm closing in on 100 books read for this year.  (Hey I can hear my fellow reading addicts scoffing at my low number of books read and I'm sure many have read twice that many books.).

Egan truly brings the war years alive and though this backdrop is precise it's the characters that make this book.  The three main characters alternate sharing their point of view though Anna's story is central.  As the book opens she about age ten and we follow her into young adulthood.  She and her father Eddie share a strong loving bond and he often takes her with him as he performs his tasks in a depression era attempt to feed his family.  Eddie sticks to his own code of behavior making sure he doesn't slide into the nether worlds he frequents.

As the book's title implies New York and especially the waterfront are where so much of the action takes place.  The dock is where Eddie stands with many other desperate men hoping to be chosen each day to perform tasks such as loading and unloading cargo.  When she's old enough Anna also seeks work near the water.

The third key figure in Manhattan Beach is Dexter.  He's connected to the mafia or the syndicate though, like Eddie, he seeks to be true to a higher personal code despite the speakeasies and then the legitimate nightclubs he runs and owns.  It's a cliche to say characters come alive but Anna, Eddie and Dexter seemed like personal friends that I'd want to wish the best.  I'd find myself worrying about them and hoping things would come out right for them.  Egan throws in more than a few plot twists I never saw coming.  I dare anyone who picks up this book not to feel the same though, having said that, it took me several chapters in before I felt the current of this book take hold but when it!

Thank you to the publisher for providing and e-copy.
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Manhattan Beach is jam-packed with elements that are familiar to us from Hollywood: WWII setting, plucky heroine in a “man’s” job, danger (in the form of scuba diving), mobsters, New York nightlife, a love interest, a missing father, a disabled sibling. So the reader comes to the book full of expectations – mostly from the movies – about how things should play out in each of these scenarios. Egan doesn’t so much subvert those expectations as ignore them. 

As a period piece, Manhattan Beach beautifully renders a specific time and place. Whether it’s a shabby apartment, the shipyards, a city nightclub or a waterfront mansion, the locations and the characters inhabiting them are vivid and believable. The historical research underlying everything doesn’t obtrude, even though Egan must have done a truckload of it. 

The writing style is evocative, without being flowery or fussy. It keeps you immersed in the book without drawing too much attention to itself. Here’s an early passage that hints at Anna and her father’s stories:

"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 that 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 a storm drain. Dead bodies, her father always added, with a laugh. To him, the ocean was a wasteland."

The plot promises a lot but delivers less. There are developments that other writers would foreshadow, milk for all the suspense they’re worth, or present with a flourish as a dramatic Plot Twist! but Egan is content allow things to unfold in an almost languorous fashion. Something dramatic or exciting seems imminent… and Egan looks away. Plot threads are left hanging, or resolved in the most cursory way.

I was reminded of the TV show Mad Men. A period drama with impeccable sets and costumes, top notch acting, well drawn characters, an immersive experience. But by the end of the episode, not much has happened – at least not in the way that conventional TV shows have taught us to expect – or maybe things have happened but the resolution is a bit flat. 

Manhattan Beach too focuses on style, character and mood over story. It is enchanting, and somewhat unsatisfying.
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You had me at Jennifer Egan.  “A Visit from the Goon Squad” is far from my genre comfort zone, but is still a best beloved book. Historical fiction is securely in my zone, and I was pretty excited to read “Manhattan Beach”.

Egan takes us deep into the waters of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.  The well-researched details of the Yard, the Merchant Marine, and New York are fascinating.  Although her characters are people of their time and place, Egan goes beyond their historicity, to reveal both their best selves and their worst faults with an even-handed clarity.
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