Cover Image: Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

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This novel was honestly a slog for me to get through. While I appreciate Egan's talent as a writer and the considerable amount of research she must have done to craft such a novel, there isn't much of a solid plot here. The description claiming that her father "disappeared" makes it sound like a mystery novel, but instead Anna has accepted that he abandoned his family and has given up hope. There is no attempt to trace his footsteps or find him.

The domestic portions of the novel were boring at best and left much to be desired. While Lydia certainly gave her sister motivation, she just felt unnecessary. So too was the subplot with Dexter. I didn't sense any chemistry at all between him and Anna. With the slow pace of the novel, I wish I could have understood the characters' motivations, but alas, I didn't.
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I had to admit it took me awhile to get into this book.  Afterwards, I am so glad that I kept up with it.  Who knew that there were women in WWII painting the underbellies of the ships!  Nor did I see the father of the main character role in the book.  Definitely recommend.
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The speed at which I read this book does not reflect my level of interest or enjoyment. It deserves every accolade and award nomination received thus far. What a great story, with old-timey wit and charm, strong female characters, a fascinating premise, and pacing and intrigue to show the deft literary hand of the author. I highly recommend.
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I put off reviewing Manhattan Beach because writing about it meant acknowledging that I had finished the book. I wanted to spend more time in Jennifer Egan's exquisitely researched 1930s and 40s Manhattan. How does one follow up a Pulitzer Prize winner like  A Visit from the Goon Squad? Manhattan Beach is a stylistic departure from Egan's earlier works, but unlike most authors, a stretch for Egan is writing a conventionally structured historical fiction novel.

Anna Kerrigan is drawn to the depths of the East River. At the Navy Yard she pushes through the bureacracy to work as a diver to support her mother and disabled sister. The Kerrigan patriarch Eddie, a bagman for crime boss Dexter Styles, left the family high and dry at the tail end of the Depression.

Manhattan is an island, and all five boroughs abutt bodies of water from Spuyten Duyvill to Great Kills Harbor to Jamaica Bay. The historic significance of New York's status as a port city and the water surrounding it provide the perfect backdrop to the novel. The Homefront Effort is a somewhat neglected subject in historical fiction, Egan uses it to flesh out her characters as they navigate through the legitimate work of the War Effort at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the underground world of gin joints, bookmakers, and war profiteers. Egan spent time meticulously researching the Brooklyn Navy Yard, including working on an oral history project. The period details make this book engrossing: ration coupons, Cadillacs and Deusenbergs, the peplums and shoulder pads all contribute to the narrative. Manhattan Beach is a well-crafted story from a master of literary mise-en-scène.
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I can't say I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad as much as the Pulitzer Prize committee or the National Book Critics Circle, or the many five star reviewers on Goodreads, but I liked it well enough to want to give this one a try and I'm so glad I did. It's a very different kind of book, a  work of historical fiction beginning around the Great Depression and continuing through the war years. It appears to be well researched and in my view definitely well written. It seems at first that the story will belong to almost 12 year old Anna Kerrigan living in Brooklyn with her family and most times it is. There is a loving attachment to her father Eddie and she is heartbroken when he disappears. It's her story as a loving sister to beautiful Lydia who is unable to walk or speak. It's her story when as an adult, she fights the fight to become the first woman diver to work on ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's her story when she has to make some crucial decisions towards the end of the book. But Anna's story is interspersed with narratives about her father and his past and what has happened over the years he has disappeared and it's also the story of Dexter Styles, a night club owner and mobster who employed Eddie and how Anna becomes connected to him.

It's about fathers and daughters, about men who are flawed, involved in crime but yet are in some ways ambivalent about what they do, leaning in some ways to be good men if you think that is possible. I did.  I liked the back and forth of the three narratives and that they were connected and that Egan gives us a piece of history- the depression, the war, the role of women through these well developed characters that in spite of their flaws, I really liked. Solid 4 stars - recommended.

  I received an advanced copy of this book from Scribner through Edelweiss 
and NetGalley.
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I enjoyed the strong female characters and learning more about the women who worked in the shipyards during WWII however, I felt like the book was trying to cover too much.  It felt like two books with two different stories smushed together. It became a chore to wade through. Just focusing on the story of the female characters would have made for a better novel.
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I loved Jennifer Egan's previous book, "A Visit From the Goon Squad," so I was very excited to get an advance copy of her new book. It was very good, but you would never know that they were written by the same author - "A Visit From the Goon Squad" was a very modern collection of interlinked short stories, while "Manhattan Beach" is straighforward traditional historical fiction. Well-written, and while much of the book is set during WWII, it was definitely a different take on it dealing with such things as a civilian woman becoming a diver in NYC and a man in the merchant marines. So, a very good book, just didn't blow me away like her previous book.
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3.5 stars

This is a tale of two books.

One of those books - the one that focuses on Anna Kerrigan and Dexter Styles - is glorious. It is captivating and compelling and utterly, completely fascinating. You become so immersed in this book that you never want to pull yourself free.

And then there is the second book, the one that focuses on Eddie Kerrigan, and you will want to poke your eyes out from misery.

Jennifer Egan is to be commended for the research she conducted. She propels you straight back to post-Depression United States, making you feel the urgency and stresses of people left on the wrong side of 1929. She also takes you into the anxieties surrounding World War II, both in terms of people statewide and their fears as well as the women who took over the jobs of the departed men. What will happen to them when the soldiers return?

I loved getting to know Anna. I loved following her odyssey as she went from hopeful child to determined young woman. I cheered for her and supported her and wanted to be there with her. With every decision she made, I would wonder if that's what I would do, and I nearly always decided that yes, it was.

I loved getting to know Dexter Styles. I loved his drive to become something that he wanted to be, and I loved his drive to break free from that, too. I loved how much his family meant to him, and I loved how much they occasionally felt like a weight pulling him down. The more I got to know him, the more I couldn't shake the sense that Jennifer Egan was going to break my heart.

It is never a good sign when you look at your Kindle app and are surprised that you aren't further into the book than you thought. The lapses in pacing feel almost egregious because so much of this book is enthralling. When Egan spends too much time detailing Anna's jobs, you can forgive her. It slows down the story, but it's fascinating. When she details Eddie's life, though. That's when I found myself skimming and skipping. I tried, dear reader. I tried so hard to power through those sections, but I just could not. I found them dreadfully dull and became almost angry at them, believing them to be interlopers into a story where they did not belong.

When Egan trains her lens on Anna and Dexter, this is exquisite storytelling. When she turns it to Eddie, it saps your energy as a reader.
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I truly wanted to like this book much more than I actually did. I was actually very disappointed in this book. I really enjoyed Lydia's character very much, but once she died, it made it almost impossible to finish the book; it became heavy and plodding with a lot of words that said a lot of stuff that wasn't ever really important. The writing feels very labored and heavy in places and very cumbersome and boring in other. This was a huge miss for me and I am very sad about that as I was looking forward to this read a lot.
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2.5 stars
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. I liked Lydia's character and feel that the book really bogged down after her death. The writing feels cumbersome and labored in places. A big miss for me.
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I really liked this book.  It spanned life in New York City from the Great Depression through WWII, and covers a lot of ground from gambling and payoffs, clubs and the mob, Navy diving, to prejudice and feminism during the war.  There were some weak spots, and I thought the ending was rushed, but all in all it was a great read.

Anna Kerrigan is a small girl who worships her father Eddie, who is basically a bagman.  He takes her with him everywhere until she gets tot old, and on one of these visits she meets Dexter Styles, a rich nightclub owner who will have an impact on her life she cannot imagine at the time.  Anna's sister Lydia was born disabled, and she and her mother have to take care of her every need.  Anna loves but also resents her sister at times.

The story jumps to Anna as an adult working in the Navy yard.  She decides she want to be a Navy diver, and her journey to get there is the most interesting part of the book.  The subplot is Dexter Styles making an appearance in Anna's life, and it's interesting, especially the descriptions of New York social life in the 1940s.

Although it took some time to get into, I highly recommend this book.  Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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An interesting story but a very slow read. The characters are well developed, but the storyline just plods along. The book should have been 100 pages shorter..
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That was disappointing. I adored A Visit from the Goon Squad; it was one of my favourite books of last year, so you can imagine how beyond excited I was to read this book - I took my sweet time starting it to be able to read it at the just the right moment, I was so sure I would love this. But I didn't. I enjoyed the first chapter and was ok with the ones following - until around page 150 - when I realized that I have no idea what the point is, what the book is about, what I am supposed to feel. The book is both too narrow and too broad and as a result left me feeling slightly bemused and more than a little disappointed.

The book tells three wildly differing stories: Anna's story and her struggle to find her own place in a world made for men; her father's story and his problems with the mob; and Dexter Styles' story, a nightclub owner with ties to the mob and to high society. These stories are intertwined and related but seem to be set in completely different genres. While I enjoyed Anna and her interactions with her sister and the men she works with when she becomes the first women diver at New York's harbour, I thought the whole gangster story line was both superfluous and infuriating. If it had been cut, the book would have been 250 pages shorter and much better for it.

The jumps in time (which is something I often enjoy) underscored the rambling feeling of this book; they made it near impossible for me to care about what was happening because important events were glossed over or told in an aside. People would disappear, just to reappear in time for them to be needed for plot related reasons; some things made no sense for the characters involved; some plot twists came out of the left field and were left unexplained.

It seems like a book with very many different ideas and many different themes to explore that never manages to become a cohesive whole.

First sentence: "They had driven all the way to Mr. Style's house before Anna realized that her father was nervous."
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Wow! What an incredible story. Manhattan Beach follows Anna, a woman working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II who dreams of becoming the first female diver. I found myself captivated by Anna's world and fascinated by the history surrounding it. Egan is a masterful storyteller, and I love that she engaged in so much research to create this book in a way that feels authentic. Fully deserving of its place on the 2017 National Book Award Fiction Long List!
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2.5 stars, rounded up
“Hope became the memory of hope: a numb, dead patch.”   This books starts in the midst of the Depression and continues during WWII.  Anna is initially a twelve year old and a true daddy’s girl.   Then she's working at the Naval Yard during the war and her father has disappeared five years earlier.  

The writing here is as good as you'd expect from Jennifer Egan.  And she's done her research and the parts of the book describing the Naval Yard and the merchant ships ring true.  But for some reason, I had trouble connecting.  There was just something missing.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Anna felt a connection with Styles or he with her.  The whole book had an incongruous nature to it.   Cohesion was missing.  I kept waiting for something to tie it all together.   

The book moved at a snail’s pace. Long periods of time where nothing much happened.  And even the places with activity, the activity just wasn’t all that gripping.  You know how when you're reading a good book, you'll do anything to get back to it?  Here, I kept finding excuses not to read, which is very odd for me.   I kept avoiding the book.  

My thanks to netgalley and Scribner for an advance copy of this book.
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Jennifer Egan’s new book Manhattan Beach is a puzzle. I enjoyed reading it, and then felt less than positive about it…but now, a few weeks later, I realize I keep thinking about certain aspects of it, so I think that adds at least one star! The story begins in Brooklyn during the Depression, when we meet Anna Kerrigan. She is almost twelve years old and loves accompanying her father as he “does business.” It’s clear both her father and her mother are extremely influential in her view of the world: “Never part with a fact unless you’ve no choice. Her father’s voice in her ears.” And “Working with your hands meant taking orders—in her mother’s case, from Pearl Gratzky…” While accompanying her father on a particular visit, she views an interaction that leads her to understand there is some secret pact between her father and a man named Dexter Styles. Not long after, her father disappears, leaving Anna alone with her mother and sister.

Two major events as Anna is growing up: her father disappears and the country goes to war. She needs to work as she is the sole support of her mother and her beautiful sister (who is totally disabled). She begins working at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn where, suddenly, women are being allowed to do work that had always been men’s jobs. Egan does a great job using that environment to convey a great deal about her characters using descriptive language: ” Dunellen gave a drooping, corroded impression, like a freighter bone to rust after being too long at anchor.” Egan also shows the reader Anna’s unique personality and quirkiness: “She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.” But she DOES have the confidence to jump into being the first female diver, an incredibly dangerous job, repairing the ships that are critical to the War effort.

One night, she is at a nightclub and meets Dexter Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished. Anna’s life away from work leads her to begin to understand the reality of her father’s life and the reasons he might have been murdered (which is surely what happened, otherwise why would he have just gone away and she would never have heard from him?).

The story is historical fiction and also sort of a “noir thriller.” There is a ton of information about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Thinking about it after the fact, I realize it was the ending/resolution that made me think I didn’t care for it. (Also perhaps my extremely high expectations based on all the hype). But the story of a young woman fighting to make it in a man’s world at a time of social turmoil is fascinating, and Egan does have an outstanding gift for character development. I’m grateful to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of Manhattan Beach in exchange for my honest review. I first thought four stars, then it slipped to two and a half, but after a couple of weeks’ reflection, it is back to a solid four stars.
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Genre: Historical Fiction (Adult)
Pub. Date: Oct. 3, 2017
Publisher: Scribner

Here is the thing about this author, Jennifer Egan: she is brilliant, I might go as far as to say there is a something Shakespearean in her writing, complete with betrayal and tragedy. But like Shakespeare, for me, she can be hard to follow. I did read her 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” “Goon Squad” has a complicated narrative with each chapter written as a tweet, or a music chart, or a PowerPoint presentation. In other words, her writing style is unique in this work.

In “Manhattan Beach” the author writes a traditional novel. The story spans from the years of the Great Depression to WWII. We meet the Kerrigans, a Brooklyn family, and learn of their successes and failures. There is twelve-year-old Anna, her adored father, Eddie, her mother and severely disabled little sister. They are a Brooklyn Irish family that is barely scraping by in the 1930s with a strong father-daughter bond. Sounds familiar right? But this is not “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” There is another protagonist, the New York gangster, Dexter Styles. The father works for him. The book’s title comes from the gangster’s wealthy home on Manhattan Beach. 

This is a hard review for me to write because the book is clearly well researched, which is always a plus. The feel of the novel is realistic, as are the characters. Furthermore, I love historical fiction and as a native New Yorker, I was drawn into the story with its sharp observations of NYC in this time frame. Maybe it is the plot that bothered me? There didn’t seem to be a steady tempo. I felt as though I was reading three different stories about the girl, the father and the gangster. It is when Egan flashes forward several years that I began to have trouble with the storyline. 

Anna at 19 is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Her father has mysteriously disappeared. She alone is the breadwinner. She elbows her way into a job as their first female diver. She also sleeps with Dexter (who initially doesn’t realize whose daughter she is). Of course, there is a disastrous outcome. The affair’s beginning seems so unlikely that it reads absurd. No matter how talented the author is, this just feels like way too much soap for my taste. I cannot talk about the father’s fate for it would be a spoiler, but that also is a bit hokey. 

So what do you say about a book written by an extremely talented author, in your favorite genre, with interesting characters that keeps you hooked until it doesn’t? I am not sure. (I wish I could quote to explain, but the publisher doesn’t allow this since the book is not yet published). Maybe, I need to brush up on my own skills. Or, maybe, it would have read better as interconnected short stories. Either way, I can safely recommend that you read this book if you wish to get lost in the world of the past, the Navy, a young woman breaking into a man's field, speakeasies, nightclubs and the end of Prohibition. As well as a lovely family saga, expect your heart to break for them. Just don't be surprised when things start getting far-fetched.
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I am a Jennifer Egan fan and was delighted to received a copy prior to publication. I LOVED Look at Me and greatly admired her award-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad.

This, not so much. That being said, I was caught up in the story of Anna Kerrigan, particularly her struggles to become a [female!] Navy diver in the 1940s. The other stories surrounding Anna I felt were uneven--and even some of her story. Billed as historical fiction? Not really though again, Anna's uphill battle to become a Navy diver was the most compelling part of the book.

Starting in Brooklyn in the Great Depression, Anna, then "...nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She [eventually] becomes the first female diver...repairing the ships that will help America win the war. "

There is much more. Dexter Styles, the "gangster" tied to her father--the latter disappears early in the book. Anna's relationship with Styles--semi-spoiler alert--really?! Dexter's family/relationships and how it drives some of the story.

Anna's home life. Her mother, a former showgirl, now seamstress. Her severely disabled sister Lydia, around whom much of the initial story revolves. Her aunt, Brianne, a single women who lives by her wits--what else? Nell, her one friend. Mr. Voss, her former boss. Marle, the Negro welder. These are all interesting characters but without much to do for the most part.

Well written, but it also dragged and I felt was too long. And Eddie's story [Anna's father]--by the time it had a real substantial part in the book, I no longer cared.

So, be forewarned. You may really like it. Or find it very uneven and a bumpy ride.
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Manhattan Beach is a book full of vivid characters and the looming effects of WWII and the recovery from Prohibition that change norms and opportunities.

The novel hops around in time, with the continual gravitational center of the relationship between a union bagman and his daughter; and the gangster/nightclub owner who comes into both of their lives and alters them irrevocably.

We visit them at different points in time after the father has to disappears, which is shortly after Anna's adolescence and sexual experimentation and her father's more dangerous errand excluding her has distanced them from their formerly very close relationship. Circumstances then cause her to investigate his disappearance and reconnect with Dexter, who must navigate being both an Irishman in an Italian mob and being equally out of place with his wife's socialite family. Layer upon layer is revealed to find the adventures that the father undertook, while Anna has her own adventures living alone in the city and going from inspecting parts for battleships to becoming one of the first females allowed to dive underwater to repair and salvage ships at the naval yard.

Through it all, the beach and the pull of water serves as a unifying theme, and each character has thrills and perils at the hands of the beautiful and merciless ocean.
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This was interesting.  The story is a weird mixture of New York gangsters, merchant marines, and a "plucky" girl making her way in the big city. It was almost as if there were three separate stories and Egan was trying too hard to make them all fit together. 

I can tell she did a lot of research in preparation for this novel,  but for some reason it just did not translate well into the finished novel. The writing was well done, the story just didn't capture my attention as well as it should.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for allowing me an ARC for review.
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