Manhattan Beach

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Oct 2017

Member Reviews

Manhattan Beach is a tale of two stories. On one side, there is Anna's work life and struggles to find her role in the wartime economy. On the other side, there is Anna's private life with her missing father and handicapped sister. Even though the two stories barely coincide, except for one key scene towards the end that sets the finale into motion, both are interesting from the glimpses into wartime New York they provide.

Manhattan Beach is by no means an action-filled story. In fact, the biggest complaint about the novel from others is that it moves slowly. To me, it is a character-driven story, and the slow pacing works as Ms. Egan affords readers the opportunity to intimately understand Anna, her motivations, her passions, and her schedule. At the same time, it allows readers to learn about wartime New York and what women experienced as they went to work in roles previously held by men. We see how the gangsters transitioned from the Prohibition era to the wartime, how things changed for everyone in any role, and watch as society evolves.

This historical aspect of the story is by far its strongest one. Particularly interesting was Anna's struggles to become a deep-sea diver. History books and wartime anecdotes would have you believe that industries, particularly those involving manual labor, welcomed women with open arms to fill the voids left by the men going overseas to fight. Ms. Egan shows that this is not true. The hatred Anna faces as well as the scorn, doubt, and general prejudice she experiences just to be able to put on the diving suit is disturbing. Yet, on some levels, the misogyny surrounding her decision to dive is not surprising in the least. While it is nice to think that Rosie the Riveter, and the women who answered the call of that advertisement, faced no issues, we just have to look to today's society to realize the likelihood of that having actually happened is nil. Anna's story in that regard is just one more in a long line of gender bias and prejudice women continue to experience today.

The second part of Anna's story, that of her personal life, also provides historical context that educates and intrigues. As with the idealized impression of women in blue-collar manual labor roles, I never thought that the idea of a single woman living alone in the 1940s was scandalous behavior. After all, there have been women-only boarding houses in existence for decades by this point in history. In my mind, the same would seem to hold true with going out without a chaperone. However, Anna's experiences burst this idyllic bubble of mine just as it did with Rosie the Riveter. Yet, while society may still see women as fragile and in need of protection, Anna's story shows how the war slowly changes this attitude. Ms. Egan, through Anna, provides a clearer picture of just what it meant to be an unmarried woman during World War II.

Even though the story revolves around Anna, Ms. Egan uses multiple viewpoints to round out her story. These character point-of-views fill in the gaps that Anna will never learn and help answer mysteries to which Anna will never obtain the answers. While Ms. Egan could have told the story strictly through Anna's eyes, the multiple perspectives afford the reader the opportunity to garner the whole truth, particularly around Anna's missing father, while allowing Anna to remain ignorant of the truth, something that feels essential to her character. In essence, they leave readers with no unanswered questions and better insight to what was occurring behind Anna's back while remaining true to all of the characters and the story.

While I enjoyed reading Manhattan Beach, finding it intriguing and educational, I can see why others are struggling to finish it. It is not a complicated plot, and there is very little action. Without the historical context, it would indeed be boring; if the history doesn't interest you, then it is boring. Nothing is much of a surprise, and while we get to know Anna very well, she does not develop much as a character. For me, the history and the mystery of the father's disappearance, no matter how predictable, were enough to overshadow the predictability and to pique my interest. Whether it will be enough for you is up to your individual tastes in stories.
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Starts pre-WWII but the books spends most of it's time in set in WWII New York harbor.  Anna is the daughter of a Mafia bagman and a former show girl.  She has a disable sister that her Mother dotes on.  Anna is working measuring pieces of ships but really wants to be a diver.  The book tries to fit a lot in and some of it was weird.  I found it interesting in parts but did not enjoy it.
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I liked this book, my first by Jennifer Egan, because it captured a very interesting period of time in New York.  It was well researched and I learned a good deal about women working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII and the challenges of women in the workforce.  It also dealt with the slow pace of desegregation during this time period. 

There were several stories interwoven including that of Anna Kerrigan, a young woman whose adored father, Eddie, has disappeared and Dexter Styles, an underworld figure who Eddie worked for prior to his disappearance.  There are many other characters and plot lines as we eventually find out what happened to Eddie.  

While the writing is good and the story held my interest, I found some of the connections and twists of plot less believable and the actions of the characters implausible.  The ending seemed to lack closure on a number of issues.
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I was so looking forward to reading this book. I did not finish Manhattan Beach. I couldn't connect to any of the characters and the story felt flat.
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It kind of feels like parts of the book are missing. There are some abrupt jumps in the book that feel like the author wants us to make a leap of some sort because she didn't feel like writing it. With that kind of writing, as interesting as I found the book, it was hard to get sucked in.

Anna as a character was feisty and determined, and was honestly someone to root for. However, the previously mentioned jumping made it difficult to really get invested in her as a character. 

The other characters all work well within the story, but are less fleshed out. To the detriment of the book. 

I feel like this is the bare bones structure of a better book, and that's kind of disappointing.
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Unfortunately this one didn’t do it for me which was unexpected since it has been getting so much attention. I felt the characters were all over the place and I couldn’t become connected to this book
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A thoroughly engrossing, meticulously researched, and engaging novel of love, fear, hope, and relationships in a dramatic time of American history. The characters are lifelike, the writing craft is brilliant, and the story will have you wrapped up in it. Gorgeously done.
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You can find the rest of this review on Litro (to be published this week). 

It is upon the complexities of relationships that Manhattan Beach builds its foundation. The eventual relationships developed between characters far exceeds a cold morning on Manhattan Beach and it is the evolution of each that lingers at the end of the novel. An author unafraid of change, Egan has patiently developed a novel that feels both long ago and timeless. At the close of Manhattan Beach the reader stands with Anna along a different coast, by her father’s side as an adult, in an ending that is moving if also swift: ‘She was surprised to find him watching the fog. It rolled in fast: a wild volatile silhouette against the phosphorescent sky. It reared up over the land like a tidal wave about to break, or the aftermath of a silent distant explosion. Without thinking she took her father’s hand. “Here it comes.”’
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A girl, living in Brooklyn, a deep loving attachment to her father....this isn't A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but....close enough. This is an epic in scope and in story. The story of fathers and daughters, the Great Depression, women in the workforce and the story of so, so many families.
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I didn't like this novel. Yes, I went straight to the point: this novel just wasn't for me. It started off interestingly enough, introducing us to young Anna whom I really liked. However, that went away pretty quickly and then I had to make myself get through this overly long and boring story. Even though this novel is pretty much all about plot, it was still extremely slow. I literally had to force myself to get through it because it just felt like nothing was really happening. I was also quite confused with the direction the author was taking. Is it about being the first female working as a diver? Is it about gangsters? I still don't know. I also felt like the author treated the characters as expendable; they were there one minute, gone the next, and would just reappear again to "conveniently" serve some mundane purpose before dying or going away. That bothered me to no end. In the end, this novel just had too many flaws for me to enjoy it. The highest I'm giving this novel is a 1/5 stars.
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I received this from netgalley.com in exchange for a review. 

I couldn't get a grasp on this story. It seemed to wander here and there and frankly, I just got bored.

Abandoned at 25%.
DNF, no rating
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A strong attachment to her father leads Anna to search for him, wondering about a secret life she slowly uncovers as she enquires years after his sudden absence ... what went wrong? The death of a damaged sister, and a mother stymied and stalled at home during the world war they all seek to fight in their own ways, and a free-spirited aunt, lean on her in ways she does not even appreciate. We've met the man who probably orchestrated what was supposed to be her father's death - and he becomes very close to Anna as he perceives her quest. Having readher earlier works - especially The Keep- i was not as surprised that following her most recent novel, winner of prizes, A Visit from the Goon Squad, she might have reverted to a more conventional form, exept there are time re-sequencing, flashbacks, that are not consecutive unto themselves. Anna is slightly a cold fish, but curious about things which draws us in. Very thoroughly detailed in historical detail in a satisfying way, a dense meaty novel that i'm glad to have read.
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I'll start off by saying that is you came to this book by way of "A Visit From the Goon Squad," this is a very different book, and if you want more of that you might be disappointed. But if you're down for some historical fiction featuring solid prose, a haunting atmosphere and a storyline with just enough mystery to keep you going, then pick this up. 

The plot follows the fates of three people: Eddie Kerrigan, his daughter Anna and the crooked nightclub owner Dexter Styles. The three of them meet in the very first chapter and after that are never all in the same place again, but each leaves a shadow that follows the others in one way or another. The central figure is Anna, who is a little girl at the beginning. We follow her life through World War II and beyond as she tries to make a living as a female diver, haunted by the absence of her father, who disappeared years before. When she happens to run into Dexter Styles, she thinks she might finally get some answers. 

The thing that made me chop off one star was the book's multiple points of view. Anna is by far the most compelling character. When the perspective shifts from her to Dexter, the momentum dies. After the first such shift, I found it difficult to pick up the book and continue to read Dexter's POV and even in the end, I felt I could easily have done without it. 

Eddie's POV covers parts of the story you couldn't get any other way, but it felt wedged in. As if Egan had wanted to include things she had learned about seamanship and the war, but hadn't any other way to include them than to give Eddie a side adventure. Eddie's chapters were not a bad read, but I couldn't help but feel that there was more to be explored in Anna's experience--I would have loved for her to have Anna get more insight into what Charlie Voss's life outside of work was like, for example--and I wasn't really sure what was the point of the happenings in his chapters, except to surround his flashbacks.
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Wow! I just wrote "historical fiction" for a book in which much of the plot happened during my lifetime. That was a rude awakening!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is a New York story, but not the kind of New York story that we are used to reading. It is an extremely well-researched novel based at the harbor and navy yard in Brooklyn in the 1930s and then, again, during World War II. (Just for clarification sake, I wasn't alive during the 1930s, but I was born during WW II.) 

There are three main characters, with others on the periphery. The primary character, Anna Kerrigan grows up during this time frame. Her father, Ed Kerrigan, appears, disappears, and then reappears in her life. Dexter Sykes, a wealthy nightclub owner with mob connections, plays a pivotal role in the Kerrigans' lives. They all appear together in book's the first scene, on a wintery day on Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn when Anna is 11 and her father has business with Sykes. While other characters have influence in the plot, the book is not about them. Although you don't connect the dots right away, the pivotal scenes happen in Dexter Sykes boathouse at his beachfront home on Manhattan Beach.

Anna grows up before our eyes. As happened to many young women coming of age during the war years, she gets an industrial job at the boatyard. She counts and packages parts for the warships that are being constructed at the naval yard, but what she really wants to do is to be a naval diver. Through the help of her boss, she has a successful tryout with a diving company, and because many of the former divers have joined the navy, she gets a job working underwater on ships being repaired.
She finds her identity in her work, and Egan emphasizes how all the characters' identities are wrapped up in their work. We understand this, because for many, if not most, of us, our identities are our work. Much of the narrative focuses on the work, and we learn in detail the work of the diver, including all the mechanisms that go into the 1940's diving outfit.

Family relationships are relatively meaningless to the plot of Manhattan Beach. Family members wander in and out of the plotline, because family is not the story that Egan wants to tell. Ed Kerrigan's reaction to his multiply-handicapped younger daughter is extremely complicated, and he can't deal with his emotional reaction to her. When the daughter dies, Anna's mother leaves Anna on her own in the city and moves back to her family in Minnesota. When her mother leaves, she thinks of Anna: "It was hard to imagine her lonely; she was so self-contained." She hugs her fiercely "trying through sheer force to open the folded part of Anna, so deeply recessed." Dexter Sykes barely knows his wife and children, so caught up he is with his work. Anna's aunt, a minor character, returns to prominence in Anna's life at the end of the novel as Anna deftly solves the major secret in her life. 

Another prominent aspect of the novel concerns the secrets that people keep. More than once, a character says to another: "We will never speak of this again." Here is another example of text about keeping secrets. Anna is thinking of her work friend Nell. "Nell was not a good girl. Her secrets weren't for Anna to know, and this made her feel easy in Nell's presence—released from a scaffolding of pretense she'd been unaware of maintaining with other girls." We also realize that it is the secrets we keep that hold us back, and only when we release the secret are we able to move forward. Anna's secret is potentially devastating and crippling, but she and her aunt solve it in a forward-moving, life affirming way. 


The sea is central to everything that happens in the novel—from Anna's career as a diver, her father's second career as a seaman, to Dexter Sykes' boathouse. "Eddie had never noticed how much of his own speech derived from the sea, from 'keeled over' to 'learning the ropes' to 'catching the drift' to 'freeloader' to 'gripe' to 'brace up' to 'taken aback' to 'leeway' to 'low profile' to 'the bitter end' or the very last link on a chain." The naval yards and the bars and restaurants that surround the docks are areas that we have seen in novels of other cities, but seldom seen in a novel about New York. At the end of the book, Egan discusses her research and the amount of time she spent learning about the war, boats, naval yards, and diving. It is impressive.

Egan won a Pulitzer Prize for her quirky and innovative novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I adored, but I was not expecting to read a similar novel when I picked up Manhattan Beach. because I had read that she had returned to a more conventional novel format. At the same time, I can report that the novel is powerful and effective, a classic in structure and subject. Both reviews in the New York Times are immensely complementary. One reviewer called it "a dreadnought of a World War II-era historical novel, bristling with armaments yet intimate in tone." He calls Egan a "witty and sophisticated writer." A review was also on the front page of the Times Book Review. That reviewer says that "this is a novel that deserves to join the canon of New York stories."

I also read a great Egan interview in The Wall Street Journal. Here's what I love the most about this novel. By returning to a classic genre, Jennifer Egan has again been innovative. What will she do next?
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A richly detailed story about fathers and daughters, a disabled sister, mobsters, the merchant marines and a female diver. Egan' s research is evident and she brings the diving scenes to life. The main character of Anna will appeal to most readers. Secondary characters are well developed and the sense of place is wondrous be it New York or San Francisco. 

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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Good book. Good to learn of the trials of women divers back in the past. Very good book!!
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MANHATTAN BEACH is historical fiction set in Brooklyn New York during WWII.  It is one of those classic immigrant sagas replete with romance, moody gangster noir, and examples of familial love and devotion.   

Commencing with the effects of the Great Depression on the American family in general and two families in particular, the Kerrigans and the Styles, the narrative takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride as they experience scenes of profound love of one sister for another, the desertion by a father of his family, the many contributions of women to the war effort and the opposition they faced in the workplace as well as  the hell of daily life that good people face in times of unbearable grief and incomprehensible events. 

 All of this is interspersed with vivid descriptions of the era replete with those opposed to the war, crime bosses and their minions, corrupt union officials culminating in an ending that is true to any traditional movie or novel of that generation.

Lovers of all things 40's should really love this one.
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What a triumph. This historical novel is of the highest quality, written in fine, penetrating prose, skillfully plotted, studded with incisive observation and description, and is also wholly compulsive. A traditional war story becomes fresh, original, and modern thanks to the author’s gifts. It absolutely deserves to be the bestseller it is.
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Manhattan Beach marks the latest entry of Pulitzer-winner, Jennifer Egan. In short, the book dances back and forth beyond two time periods to tell the story of Anna whose father mysteriously disappeared when she was 12. Fast forward seven years and a world war has broken out, one in which Anna endeavors to serve as the first female diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. All the while, Dexter Styles, an influential nightclub owner, looms in the background of her life and may have played a role in the disappearance of her father.

Egan's writing is transportive. Reading Manhattan Beach feels like walking the sidewalks of New York in the early twentieth century. Without question, her skill is on display throughout. That said, I found the story less than engaging. I struggled to connect with Anna's plight and found the conclusive reveal dissatisfying. It's worth a read for the immersive experience, but is less likely to leave the lasting impression of Egan's earlier works.
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