Cover Image: Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

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Jennifer Egan is a truly brilliant writer.  Each of her books involve complex characters portrayed beautifully and convincingly.  And what is more remarkable is that none of her books bear the slightest resemblance to one another!  in MANHATTAN BEACH, Egan gives us gives us a wonderful story told by three characters, each of whom is struggling with their own ambitions.  After her father abandons them, Anna Kerrigan become the sole supporter of her mother and disabled sister.  Although Anna appears to be the quintessential "good girl,"  she is really a curious and determined adventurer.  Her father, Eddie Kerrigan, is a watcher and listener, dabbling with mobsters to get ahead in life, which ultimately does not serve him well.  Dexter Styles is a gangster with an outwardly conventional life and family and he longs to move in to legitimacy but is held back by his past.  Throughout the books the lives of Anna, Eddie and Dexter overlap, sometimes in curious ways.  Egan gives us such a sense of place - one can almost hear and smell the Naval shipyard wear Anna works and see the ocean and smell the salt air from Dexter's porch.  And I especially loved learning about divers during the second world war.  As a scuba diver myself, I found the whole process fascinating and Egan described it so well that I could feel the heavy weight of the diving helmet pushing down on my shoulders.  This was the best book I have read this year and I look forward to sharing it with others.
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Beautifully written, this is an unusual story full of meticulous historical detail. The main character, Anna, grows up in New York during the Great Depresion, and the main plot line is her search as an adult woman for her father, Eddie,  a man mixed up in the murky gangster world, and who mysteriously disappears when she is a child. Yet it is more the story of Anna’s battle for equality as she becomes a deep sea diver in the early days when the diving equipment was mindblowingly clumsy, heavy, and scary. These diving scenes were the most interesting and vivid for me. In the second half the story becomes rather disjointed as it switches between Anna’s and Eddie’s stories, and the end is somewhat an anticlimax. Overall, an impressive novel, but perhaps too long, too much telling of history, and with characters who, apart from Anna and her disabled sister, not especially likeable or compelling!
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This multilayered story is on the surface a story about New York City and gangsters and what happens when you  lose favor with them. But dig deeper and it is a story of survival and escaping the hand that life has dealt you (being controlled by the gangsters that ruled your neighborhood, etc.). It is a story of not being afraid to make tough choices and accepting the potential consequences. The story starts slow and at times didn't hold my attention.
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Started but not for me, no review for incomplete book, it isn't fair. Loved Goon Squad but couldn't connect with this one. Sorry!
Had to add a star rating to send this.
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messages and money between gangster club owners.   One day he walks out the door never to return, leaving Anna, her mother, and disabled sister behind.  
  Year pass, the world is at war, and Anna moves to New York.   It was so interesting to read about the many women working as welders and labourers, jobs that were previously only considered for men.  Working in an office in the New York shipyard, Anna desperately wants to train as a diver and encounters a lot of resistance from the bosses who think it is ludicrous for a woman to attempt such a difficult and dangerous job.  A contact that Anna makes at this job gives her a lead to follow on what happened to her father.  
Meanwhile, the narrative shifts to Anna’s father and the reader follows his story as well.   
The main characters, Anna, her father, and the gangster are all so well developed, each one flawed and complex.   
I highly recommend this novel!
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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After Anna Kerrigan's gangster father disappears, she comes of age during WWII and begins a career as a diver working on warships but her father's legacy lingers on in her life.

Jennifer Egan's Visit From the Goon Squad was a masterpiece in entangled stories. Manhattan Beach weaves a few narratives together in a much less haphazard but also less enticing story: Anna Kerrigan's father is a gangster in New York, her mother is an ex-Follies dancer, and her sister suffered a birth injury and is permanently disabled.  After Anna's father disappears, Anna is working a tedious job doing parts inspections for the war when she notices the divers going under water in the harbor and is suddenly drawn to them. After becoming a diver herself, she becomes entangled with Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner who was a contact of her father's. Styles lives in Manhattan Beach on Coney Island, and Anna visits his home as a child with her father and then visits again with her sister as an adult.

It is clear from this book that Jennifer Egan did her research on women in the war, gangsters in New York of the era, and the war in general. But in her attempt to pull it all together to build a narrative, it gets bogged down in the story lines of Anna, her father, and Dexter Styles.  There is little suspense and the characters lack dimension. During the time when Anna's whole family is together in their apartment, the story holds together and the characters come alive. The forays into gangster conversations and even Anna's career seem plastic and the characters' motivations are just not clear. It reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things-- like the author's desire to paint a picture of a woman's life at a certain point in history just made the story overly earnest and stilted. In some ways it seems like too modern of a perspective, in that there is little mention of the shaming that would have been directed at a woman with her status. Although Anna experiences adversity, it's hard to really grasp the amount of strength she would have to have to pursue her diving career. Class is an issue, but it's just not felt in the way that makes it real. Anna is too impervious. The thing I loved about Egan's previous book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, was how it captured the different phases of people's lives, the miasma of disappointment and indecision and inertia that engulfs people as they get older. Manhattan Beach shows glimpses of that, for example when Dexter Styles tries and fails to redirect his career, and when Anna's father does the same. But the story seems so stretched to force Anna into her diving career and into the storyline with Dexter Styles, it loses sight of her humanity.

Egan's descriptions of war ships residing in the bays of New York City are moving. The machinery of war dominating the shorelines of New York is an overwhelming image. Her portrayal of the tedium of the work done by women and the men who were not fighting is fascinating.  Anna's dive-mates are all men who are not fighting in the war, and I wish their stories had eclipsed some of the gangster stories.  Marle, the only black person on the dive crew, is marginalized in the same way that Anna is. Their wary interactions and eventual friendship were interesting.

The book was recently longlisted for the National Book Award, and Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer Prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad.
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I love Jennifer Egan's books, but this one fell short for me. It lacked the glamour, nostalgia, and thrill of her other books. Set during WWII, this book follows the story of Anna as she becomes a diver in the Naval Yard. Jumping between present time and memories from the past we learn of the mysterious disappearance of her father and his connections with NYC gangsters. This all sounds exciting, however it fell short. The mystery lacked excitement and was quickly explained without drama. At times it took a second read for me to understand if the narrative was about the past or present since the shifts in time were sometimes abrupt and lacked transition. This book could've been so much more entertaining giving the subject matter, but with so much details on diving, ships, and the Navy Yard it struggled to hold my attention.

Thank you to Netgalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I was looking forward to reading this but sadly didn't like it. It was extensively researched, the historical atmosphere and tone were all in place, but I found the characters and a lot of the plot to be just... meh and uninvolving. In some ways it felt like the author was trying to write a romance novel, but left out all the heart and soul that make romance novels work and make us care about the character's lives and fates. All the emphasis was on Eddie and Dexter stories, and I didn't like or care about them. So, unfortunately, not a recommended read.
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Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book (due for publication in October) that I freely chose to review.
I read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad a few years back and I was fascinated by its language, the stories, the way the story was told, and its inventiveness. When I saw Egan’s new book on offer at NetGalley I couldn’t resist. I have not read any of Egan’s other novels, but this one is very different from A Visit. For starters, this is a historical fiction novel. Both from the content of the novel and from the author’s acknowledgements at the end, we get a clear sense of how much research has gone into it. The novel covers a period around World War II, in New York and the surrounding area, and focuses on three stories that are interconnected, and are also connected to seafaring, the seafront, New York, and to the war era. The story goes backwards and forwards at times, sometimes through the memories of the characters, and sometimes within the same chapter, we get to see how that particular character got to that point. Although the story is narrated in the third person, we are firmly inside the character’s heads, and we can be at sea one minute, and the next at home remembering one gesture, a smile… 
Anna Kerrigan is the strongest character and the one we spend more time with. We follow her story and know of her circumstances: a severely disabled sister, a father who disappears, and a mother who decides to go back to her family. Anna is a young woman, independent and determined to live her own life. She has never made peace with her father’s disappearance and remembers a strange encounter, when she accompanied her father as a child, with a man later revealed to be a gangster. Anna’s story was the one I was most interested in. Partly, because she was the character we got to know in more detail, partly because of her eagerness and determination, as she decides to become a diver and does not give up until she achieves her goal (at a time when being a woman severely limited one’s options, even during the war, when there were a few more openings, as she was already working at the Navy Yard). Her relationship with her sister, her training to become a diver (and you feel as if you were with her inside the incredibly heavy suit), and her obsession with finding out what happened to her father make her somebody to root for, although I found it difficult to engage at an emotional level with the character (it was as if she was contemplating herself at a distance and always analysing what she was doing, except for some brief moments when we get a sense of what she is feeling). 
Dexter Styles is a strange character: he married a woman of the upper-class, and he has a good relationship with her father and her family, but by that point he was already involved in some shady deals and the underbelly of New York clubs and gambling joints, and he is smart, elegant, classy, but also ruthless and a gangster. I’ve read in a number of reviews that there are better books about New York gangsters of the period, and although I don’t recall having read any, I suspect that is true. I found the background of the character interesting, and his thoughts about the links between banking, politics, legal business, and illegal enterprises illuminating, but I am not sure I would say I completely got to know the character and did not feel particularly attached to it. (His relationship with Anna is a strange one. Perhaps it feels as if it was fate at work, but although I could understand to a certain extent Anna’s curiosity and attraction, Styles did not appear to be a man who’d risk everything for a fling. And yet…).
Eddie, Anna’s father, makes a surprise appearance later in the book and we get to learn something that by that point we have suspected for a while. From the reviews I’ve read, I’m probably one of the only people who enjoyed Eddie’s story, well, some parts of it. I love Melville (and the book opens with one of his quotes) and when Eddie is at sea, in the Merchant Navy, and his ship sinks, there were moments that I found truly engaging and touching. He is not a sympathetic character overall, as he takes a terribly selfish decision at one point in the book, but seems to redeem himself (or is at least trying) by the end. 
This is a long book, but despite that, I felt the end was a bit rushed. We discover things that had been hidden for most of the book, several characters make life-changing decisions in quick succession, and I was not totally convinced that the decisions fitted the psychological makeup of the characters or the rest of the story, although it is a satisfying ending in many ways. 
The novel’s rhythm is slow, although as I mentioned above, it seems to speed up at the end. There are jumps forward and backwards in time, that I did not find particularly difficult to follow, but it does require a degree of alertness. There are fascinating secondary characters (Nell, the bosun…), and the writing is beautifully descriptive and can make us share in the experiences of the characters at times, but I also felt it didn’t invite a full emotional engagement with them. I was not a hundred per cent sure that the separate stories interconnected seamlessly enough or fitted in together, and I suspect different readers will like some of the characters more than others, although none are totally blameless or sympathetic. An interesting book for those who love historical fiction of that period, especially those who enjoy women’s history, and I’d also recommend it to those who love seafaring adventures and/or are curious about Egan’s career.
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The story begins in the depression with 12 year old Anna and her father, who later abandons the family. During WWII, Anna becomes the first woman diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and learns the secrets of her father who she suspects was involved with the mob. A good historical fiction about this time in US history, the role of women, merchant marine life, organized crime and class distinctions.
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Anna Kerrigan is a strong willed young woman trying to carve out a meaningful life in Brooklyn during WWII.  Anna has a sister who has muscular dystrophy, and she spends her evenings and weekends, helping her mother care for Lydia.  Anna's father is a bagman for mobster Dexter Styles.  As a child, Anna always accompanied her father on his business visits, and they were very close.

The war gears up, and Anna's dad has disappeared. Anna works in the shipyards of Brooklyn setting her sights on getting a job as a diver.  It isn't an easy for women to get accepted in those kinds of positions, so Anna turns to her supervisor in the welding department, Mr. Voss, for help. With iron clad determination and an unwavering vision, Anna becomes the first female sea diver.

The rest of Anna's story is about her love of life and nature.  Jennifer Egan presents the story of WWII, Irish Americans, and young women of the day with a finely tuned ear for young love and the grief of loss, and the ravages of war.  I enjoyed this novel and learned so much about a part of history and life in Brooklyn at Manhattan Beach.

Thank you to Net Galley, Jennifer Egan, and Scribner for the opportunity to read and review this e-ARC (pub. date 10/3).
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What a page turner!  I love historical fiction and this book really delivered.
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Loved this book! Fictional characters with a flare of historical fiction about the first civilian woman diver working in the New York naval yards during the war. Also a rich blend of the mob & crime & violence during this era. Truly fascinating.
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**** 4.5 stars: Loved it and probably stayed up all night reading and developing real feelings for fictional people.

This Great Depression to WWII-set novel is great for anyone.

Recommended readers:

If you like novels with history and drama
If you want an action-packed, historical read
If you like strong female characters
Here's my Rankings:

5/5 for characters
4/5 for plot
4.5/5 overall

A single woman in Brooklyn, Anna Kerrigan is essentially on her own in during changing times as the US fights WWII. Anna fights for her career as a Navy diver, while trying to uncover why her father mysteriously disappeared.

Delving into history from The Great Depression to World War II, Jennifer Egan weaves a mysterious tale with a mix of elements of history. Through the eyes of Anna, you experience a fascinating story of crime and mafia, class tensions and family drama, with historical significance. Grab a copy for you, your husband and friends to enjoy: Manhattan Beach is a perfect read for anyone - lovers of drama, history, mystery and more.

Available Oct 3: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
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I admit I fell in love with Jennifer Egan's prose in Visit from the Goon Squad. This book is unlike that one in nearly every way, except that again here the prose can be taut or elegant, often both at once. The story is radically different, focusing on the ports of New York City rather than the music scene and aging artists. In fact the water is as much a heroine as the family depicted, and inform everything they do. From mobsters to sinking ships and diving for the war effort as well as to retrieve the past- everything surrounds the water. It is clearly well researched, but the details never get in the way of the story.

All that said, I never loved our heroine. Anna is in many ways a cold and unknowable young lady. That distance is what allows her to thrive as a diver, despite being a woman. It also makes the book more complicated. There are no truly right or wrong people in this, except for the sister whose disability makes her inherently pure, but the occasion for so much grief.

Powerful and interesting. Not my favorite, but written well enough that I didn't mind. Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!
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A very interesting read about diving in World War II.
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The author's writing is lyrical and her style continues to evolve. She has clearly done her research into the many varied elements of the book and constructed World War II era New York with clarity and precision.
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The beginning of the book I liked.   The writing style was exceptionally good.   It was interesting to read about how divers were used in WWII/  Furthermore, it had a stronger plot line than much modern that I have recently read which I liked.

However, the ending of the book was very weak.   The book just stopped with no resolution; the style of the first half of the book required a strong finish that had a twist.
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Wonderful second novel from one of my favorite writers.
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This book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review. What can I say?!? Run don't walk to get this book! 5 big stars!!
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