Manhattan Beach

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Oct 2017

Member Reviews

Egan's latest is eagerly awaited--it's her first since A Visit From the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer-- is, maybe surprisingly, a fairly straightforward historical novel. Still, it is a really EXCELLENT historical novel! It centers on a young woman growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, her relationship with her father (shades of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn there), and what happens after he disappears--and what happens years later when she encounters the mysterious man she met with her father one day. And meanwhile, its WWII, and she gets a job at the Navy Yard to support her mother and disabled sister, and everything about her job was really fascinating! Anyway this is perhaps not a literary groundbreaker, but it is immensely satisfying, and sometimes that is just as good. A/A-.
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Jennifer Egan has done it again. The Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel "A Visit from the Goon Squad" has written another dazzler. "Manhattan Beach" is a wonderfully written historical novel mostly set in NYC during World War 2. The characters are bewitching and so well rounded you will feel like that are a part of your family. A book I wish would go on forever!
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I haven’t read any of Jennifer Egan’s other novels but they get so much praise that I was thrilled to get this eARC but ultimately I was underwhelmed. The story revolves around Anna who, for the majority of the novel, is working in the Manhattan Navy Yards during the Second World War, contributing to the war industry as so many women did when men were called to fight. Despite the desperate need for labour and the necessity of shifting perspectives with regards to women's work she faces the casual (and not so casual) sexism of male workers, particularly when the sight of a navy diver takes possession of her imagination and she determines to become one of the only female Navy divers. Alongside Anna-as-adult we are introduced to an earlier world of Depression-era hardship and corruption as she accompanies her father Eddie on mysterious visits to powerful, and often much richer, men. Eddie is clearly mixed up in something shady which culminates in his sudden, an unexplained disappearance. He becomes an absence haunting his daughter's life. 

It is this dual narrative which destabilised the novel, while Anna's has some truly original and gripping aspects (the diving scenes in particular are beautifully written, tense and claustrophobic, Anna's anxiety, excitement and wonder contagious. The pace stalled whenever the narrative switched to Eddie and the murky but rather dull world of union corruption and organised crime. This world is more familiar than Anna's and more prone to cliche and predictability. The players are obvious, they don't do or say anything unexpected and feel like stock characters. In particular the early stage at which Eddie's fate is revealed removes a primary source of anticipation, it would have been better if the reader could have remained in the dark with Anna. 

While Anna's character, and those around her, are superior to those in Eddie's narrative there are weaknesses there too. In the early chapters we are introduced to Anna's severely disabled sister Lydia. The ways that the family, and other characters, responded to Lydia were some of the most interesting and insightful passages, ranging from adoration to frustration to disgust and there was often love in all of them. Lydia's need for a special chair costing hundreds is one of the driving forces behind Eddie's backroom negotiations and his relationship with with the wealthy enigmatic Dexter Styles which ultimately leads to his uncertain fate. Despite this Lydia, and all the potential for further exploration of her circumstances, disappears not far into the story. In many ways Anna herself would be at home amongst the heroines written by Sarah Waters and Sarah Moss; brave, determined, independent, rebelling against social and gender norms, and yet alongside them she would be a little gauzy and insubstantial, a cipher to their convincing reality and full personhood. In the same way, despite impressive and meticulous research, Egan’s historical world lacks the immersive power of Moss or Waters, it is detailed and three-dimensional but truly lives only in fits and starts.

A narrative that focused more exclusively on Anna would have allowed for a more consistent pace a well as better development of her and her colleagues and the specific world in which they worked and lived. The shadow of Eddie's disappearance and the revelation of the events surrounding it could have added the shady dimension Egan was aiming form without having to delve quite so deeply into it or deviate so often from Anna's perspective.
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I don't always love historical fiction but this novel hooked me from the beginning as its unique characters were believable and attention to detail was flawless. Spanning years from the Great Depression to WWI, it relates the story of Anna and her family, their successes and failures, their dreams and accomplishments. It's like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn meets the twenty-first century as it addresses feminism, racism, organized crime, bootlegging, and social issues that bring the era to life. Another winner for this author!
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Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 7/7/17
Published by Simon & Schuster
To be published October 3, 2017

I've just finished Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. What can I say about such a perfect book by such an incredible author. I am close to speechless. Again, the language is glorious, surprising and just beautiful. This is a complex book with multiple protagonists and intertwining plots. I'd say probably among the top five books  of 2017. I don't want give away any spoilers. So I'll say this: the book is about World War 2. New York and specifically Brooklyn. War Ships. Diving at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Families. Irish-America in the 20th century. Gangsters. Love. Abandonment. Redemption. An absolute must-read. Highly, highly recommended. 

Amazon doesn't allow reviews to be posted until publication. I'll return to Amazon after Amazon to post my review there
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I fear that hardcore Jennifer Egan fans may be disappointed by this novel, her first foray into historical fiction. And while I was not as taken with this book as I was with Good Squad, Look at Me, or Invisible Circus, I truly admire how Egan stretches herself by trying something new, and when I finished the book I immediately wanted to read it again. The plot involves organized crime in pre-WWII New York, and extends into the home front during the war--particularly the workers who learned to dive in order to work on warships. Egan's research is extensive and her characters thoughtfully drawn.
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Manhattan Beach written by Jennifer Egan

This is a hard review for me to write, because while it is apparent in the acknowledgements Jennifer Egan lists the many people she interviewed and the many books she read to meticulously research and bring this book to life, it was a disappointing experience. I have tremendous respect for this Pulitzer Prize winning author whose historical novel Manhattan Beach will most likely find an audience of fans for this book. I found this book to be the most engaging when Anna's character was learning how to dive underwater in her 200 pound gear to make repairs at the Brooklyn Naval shipyard. I was invested in Anna's character and whether she was taking care of her disabled sister Lydia or her excursion's with her friend Nell or any interactions Anna had I was engaged.

I don't think this particular book was a good fit for me because I didn't feel comfortable with the writing style of this novel. My attention waned quickly when the author would switch back and forth between ganster Dexter Style's family life and his underworld business dealings with Anna's father Eddie Kerrigan. The Eddie Kerrigan and Dexter Styles story arc did not interest me at all. It did not seem fresh or new. I have been bombarded with the crooked labor union's and organized crime in New York City during the years of prohibition and the years that followed it. I became completely disinterested and disengaged as a reader when the narrative went in that direction.

I really wanted to like this story but as I said I have read an abundance of this type of genre and it lost me as a reader. I felt the writing to be disjointed. I felt so bored at times that finishing this was a challenge. It could be that I am in the minority of reader's that feel this way. I do hope this book succeeds and am grateful to Net Galley, Jennifer Egan and Scribner for providing me with my digital copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I thought I had read Egan before and remembered good things, but after starting *Manhattan Beach*, it wasn't clear to me that I had the correct Jennifer. I was only able to stick with the book for the first couple of chapters. The tone was strange to me; perhaps the characters are meant to be jaded in some way after living the difficult lives put before them. Anna seemed innocent at least, but the adults were so dysfunctional, I didn't think I could go through with it. The relationship between Anna and Mr. Styles seemed like it would be heading into dangerous territory as well.
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I liked this one a lot but got bogged down in Eddie's storyline, which appeared in the second half of the book. Anna's story was much more complete and compelling. For fans of historical fiction.
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I really enjoyed this story, it is set in Brooklyn mostly around the naval yard.  I know this are but never realised who much the yard was used during WW2.  Throw in a missing father and some local gangsters and this book is both interesting and enjoyable.
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The author brought me to the Naval Shipyard of WWII and specifically to the main character's struggles as a woman in this world.  I especially enjoyed how Anna fought for her right to dive and her devotion to her disabled sister.  However, the many descriptions of diving slowed down my reading experience, and her sexual relationship with the man who aided in the disappearance of her father many years before was unbelievable, as was her father's reappearance.  In general I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
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I have read one book by this author before (The Keep) and didn't really care for it, so I wasn't sure how I would like this one. During WWII, Anna works in the naval yard. She gets a job as the only female diver. Her father has disappeared years before, and she provides for her mother and disabled sister. She happens to meet up with Dexter Styles, a man she knew her father had secretive dealings with years earlier. I thought it was well written. I liked the early part of the book with Anna and her father, but the later parts were somewhat disappointing. I gave it 3 stars.
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This is a brilliant,well written and well researched book. It tells of organised crime and the emancipation of woman during the Second World War. Anna's life is really well described and her fight to become a diver and find out what had happened her father had me clued to this book. This book was an easy read which kept me reading right to the end in one sitting. Jennifer Egan is definitely a good historical writer. I hope she writes more historical novels.
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I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion about the book. I really liked reading about Anna and her family. I love that she got to become the first female diver. I skimmed over some of the gangster stuff about Dexter. I liked this one better than Goon Squad. I enjoyed reading about New York in the 30's.
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My sincere thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the privilege of reading an ARC of this novel five months prior to publication, in exchange for this honest review. (WARNING: some very mild minor spoilers ensue!) 

Let's face it - when your last book won every book award under the sun, including the Pulitzer, unless the follow-up -eagerly anticipated by fans for seven long years - is a flat-out masterpiece, there is bound to be a bit of disappointment. Although Egan's novel is eminently readable, it just doesn't quite reach the heights of 'Goon Squad'. Partially, this is because Squad WAS so different and unusual, with quirky, but relatable characters and a unique structure ... and this is a much more mundane story, with somewhat moribund characters that seem more like standard archetypes. Despite (or perhaps because of?) the years Egan spent researching it, there are longueurs within the book that feel like nothing more than Wikipedia excerpts. And at other times, this reminded me of Sarah Waters' book, 'The Night Watch' (NOT a bad thing!), minus the lesbianism. 

Whereas Squad dealt with the inherently exciting world of the recording industry, with all its eccentricities, this details the dreary work in a Naval Yard during WW2 (although there are some interesting details about early diving salvage expeditions), along with a side trip to the world of Prohibition gangsters (that reads like too many viewings of old Cagney movies), and a tour upon a merchant marine ship, with the concomitant expected U-boat attack and shipwreck. In fact, most of the incidents that occur within the book are either foreseeable (and a bit clichéd, e.g., an unexpected pregnancy), from several chapters in advance, or confusingly rendered, with not enough detail. 

The most egregious of these is that one of the major characters goes missing and is presumed dead for much of the first part, although we learn early on that he is actually alive and working as a merchant marine 7 years later... so that any tension or mystery is effectively obliterated, and one just waits tediously until the rather expected explanation of how that all went down. 

The other problem I have is that the main character, Anna Kerrigan, is something of a cipher - other than her desire to become a diver, and her love for her disabled sister, Lydia (who unfortunately disappears before the halfway mark), we don't really find out much about her - she's just the standard issue 'plucky heroine', albeit one with more of a sexual appetite than usually afforded women of those times. I was initially confused by a NYT Review that said "Egan possesses ... the heart of a romance novelist", but after reading this, I would have to agree - this seems like a throwback to generic women's fiction, sad to say. 

But perhaps I am being a bit too curmudgeonly - if expectations were not so high for Egan to surpass herself, I might have appreciated it more. As it was, I WAS able to fly through this in less than three days, so it DID capture my undivided attention. But I doubt that, unlike Squad, it will garner any major awards, or warrant a re-reading.
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Not only is this book intellectually stimulating, it boasts a deep, courageous woman, Anna, whose determination knows no end.  Set in NYC when women were doing the "men's work" while they were fighting in WWII.  Working at the Navy Yard, going to swanky nightclubs, and earning her job as a diver are just some of her adventures throughout the book.  She finds herself on Manhattan Beach where the infamous Harry Styles resides with his family....  Excellent novel.
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- I struggled to give this a book a 3, because in reality it was more of a 3.5. I had high hopes for this book after reading some other fellow readers review but i have to say it didn't hold up that well for me. I was intrigued about Anna and her father right away, wanting to know more about her fathers secret life and what they did together. That fell short through, and it was disappointing when it jumped right into him missing. I liked the part about Lydia and Anna's relationship i think it brought a soft side to Anna, that we might not have seen other wise. I also liked the connection of the beach to the story, and how she takes Lydia back to the beach which made me have more high hopes for the relationship between Eddy and Anna. But i found this book jumped a lot, and the diving part was awesome and i loved how Anna worked hard to do something girls had never done before but it made me get lost a little bit in the story. I also loved the relationship between Dexter and Anna which i thought there could of been a lot more of in the story! I liked the gangster element but once again i got a little lost in all the story lines happening. The ending also felt like it as kinda tied together quickly just to finis the book, other parts could be taken out to make the ending way better!
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MY TAKE:

Egan’s first novel since her 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, Manhattan Beach whisks readers into the mysterious and thrilling life of Anna Kerrigan. We follow Anna as she evolves from child to woman during the Great Depression into WWII. 

Always an independent spirit, Anna becomes the first female diver to help repair ships in the harbor for the war. Anna struggles throughout the novel to define herself as an individual and in her relationships with the people she loves. Anna serves as the anchor of the novel around which other primary characters circulate - her enigmatic father, her devoted mother, and her sister who suffers from a disability from birth. 

The central imagery theme of water is masterfully tackled by Egan in her writing, as is Anna’s own wrestling with her Madonna/whore complex. 

Overall, the pace of the novel is quick while giving depth to the storylines of multiple characters. Egan’s prowess as a writer is evident. Manhattan Beach is set to be released in October 2017. This is definitely one to be added to your “to be read” list. 

REVIEWS
“Pitch perfect… Darkly, ripplingly funny… Egan possesses a satirist’s eye and a romance novelist’s heart.”  (The New York Times Book Review)

“The smartest book you can get your hands on.” (Los Angeles Times)

“At once intellectually stimulating and moving.”  (San Francisco Chronicle)

“A new classic of American fiction.”  (Time)

“Audacious, extraordinary.”  (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Groundbreaking… Features characters about whom you come to care deeply as you watch them doing things they shouldn’t, acting gloriously, infuriatingly human.”  (Chicago Tribune) 

AUTHOR
Jennifer Egan is the author of five books of fiction, including A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize and National Books Critics Circle Award; The Keep, a national bestseller; the story collection Emerald City; Look at Me, a National Book Award Finalist; and The Invisible Circus, which was adapted into a major motion picture starring Cameron Diaz. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta, McSweeney’s, The New York Times Magazine and many others. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.
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There are many good books, books that tell a good story or that offer a detailed understanding of a character. Manhattan Beach is much more than just a good book. Egan tells a good story in beautiful prose and she offers us in-depth understanding of complex characters. This beautiful book also offers well researched portraits of the New York world of gangsters, of the world of the non-military merchant marine, and, much more compellingly, of the civilian divers who during WWII helped build and repair the ships that helped the US win the war.  Egan takes her time telling her tale and painting multilayered portraits of her major characters, all to excellent effect. This is a wonderful book whose story, characters, and themes of family, self actualization, and courage will stay with me for a long time.
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I gave up on this after reading about 10%. It just didn't hold my attention.
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