Manhattan Beach

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Oct 2017

Member Reviews

During the Great Depression, young Anna Kerrigan regularly accompanies her father on his work as a union courier. But one morning he walks out the door and disappears, leaving Anna and her mother to take care of Anna's disabled sister.

Years later, to help provide for her family during WWII, Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard measuring machine parts and later as a female diver. While at a nightclub one evening she crosses paths with someone from her father's past and she sets out to find out what happened to him many years before.

Jennifer Egan has written a sweeping and atmospheric novel that spans decades. Manhattan Beach (Scribner, digital galley) follows our heroine as she navigates among gangsters, "Rosie the Riveter" factory workers and hard-nosed divers.

Egan, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit form the Goon Squad, is masterful at bringing to life war time New York. And as Anna unravels the mystery of her father's disappearance and decides what course her own life will take, the lucky reader gets to join along and explore the many cultures that made up the city.
Was this review helpful?
Set against the backdrop of WWII, Manhattan Beach tells the interrelated stories of Anna Kerrigan, her father, Eddie, and a New York gangster named Dexter Styles. At the center is Anna’s story—we follow her from childhood, through the disappearance of her father, and into adulthood. Her journey takes her from a job in the Brooklyn Naval Yard to becoming one of the military’s first female divers. The novel is well researched, and Egan infuses the book with a lovely, “old movie” quality that matches the tone of the time period perfectly. 

In her telling of the story, Egan alternates between all three main characters’ POVs. She writes beautifully from all of their perspectives, but the novel is most compelling in Anna and Dexter’s chapters. Dexter is simultaneously slimy and seductive, and Anna is a complex, multi-dimensional character; I could have followed her story well past the final pages of this book. 

Egan reveals details slowly to tease out the mystery of Eddie’s disappearance and the intrigue of Anna and Dexter’s relationship. When the stories ultimately came together, I wasn’t ready for the novel to end, or to re-emerge from the world of Manhattan Beach. For anyone looking for an introduction to Jennifer Egan, this novel was a wonderful place to start.
Was this review helpful?
I have a sort of love/dislike relationship with Jennifer Egan. I usually can't even finish her work. The premise for Manhattan Beach was intriguing however and not like the pop culture ridden titles that I'd tried to read from her so far. So I went for it.

It wasn't love, but it was a unique look at both pre-war and WWII New York in which that I don't think that many authors could have given such a great treatment to female characters. 

I enjoyed the flairs and glimpses of former Ziegfield girls and what happened as they got older and settled down. I loved the gray area between working for a gangster and doing the best you can for your family during the depression. I appreciated the honesty of a father being unable and almost horrified by the birth defect of one of his children. (While I can't relate in that I don't have children, I could understand the understand just how complicated that must have been and the myriad of emotions that it would bring up for a breadwinning 'macho' father that that generation expected in the era.) I loved the older daughter growing up into an independent woman, willing to not only to do her part for the war, but take risks that others wouldn't in seeking some closure on the mysteries of her life.

Ultimately, though, I felt cheated at times by where her characters were willing to stop in their search for the answers of their lives I think that is because I expected too much from this vivid and strong characters Egan had created. They were human, albeit fictional, after all, and it isn't like I would have had the strength to do what they did, little own answer all of the niggling questions that still can't be answered in my own life. I guess that means she gets a pass, a grumbly one, but a pass no less. 

The book is a journey and one that I enjoyed, no matter if I wasn't thrilled with the eventual destinations of the characters.
Was this review helpful?
Anna Kerrigan is twelve years old, living in Brooklyn with her family during the Great Depression. Her father’s job description is unclear to her, but his union connections bring him into contact with people from all walks of life, including the world of organized crime. When Anna accompanies him to one of these meetings, she is introduced to Dexter Styles, a powerful man who controls her father in ways she doesn’t understand. Visiting Dexter’s beachfront mansion makes a strong impression on Anna that will last into adulthood.

Several years later, Anna’s father has disappeared – presumably he has walked out on the family that he was unable to support financially. Working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Anna is now responsible for her former showgirl mother and her disabled sister who suffers from a debilitating and progressive disease. The country is at war, which is why Anna has the opportunity to work at a traditionally male job – she works on small-scale machinery, but dreams of become the first female diver, repairing ships underwater. 

Anna has been drawn to the water ever since that day at Dexter’s beach house, so when she gets her chance to dive, she finally feels whole. And when she runs into Dexter at a night club shortly after, it seems like fate. He doesn’t recognize Anna, and she doesn’t give her last name, but they do forge an immediate connection. Anna convinces Dexter to help with her sister, who is still alive but not truly living – together they take her to the beach, which seems to make her better. But when tragedy strikes, Anna and Dexter turn to each other in a romantic relationship that is as intimate as it is dangerous. Secrets emerge about Dexter’s work, including a possible connection to Anna’s father’s disappearance. 

Manhattan Beach has all the energy and passion of Egan’s earlier novels, but it is also saturated with historical detail about life in New York City during the Depression and World War II years, including a view through the cracks in the world of organized crime. The situational details are mostly interesting, but sometimes became long-winded and dry. I much preferred the intimate portrait of Anna as a young girl, growing into an independent and powerful woman, taking on new roles within her family and out in the wider world. 

Anna learns to stand up for herself and make life-changing decisions – she discovers what to hold onto and when to let go. Although many of the characters in the novel are one-dimensional, Anna is fully formed and makes the entire novel worth reading. These are transformative years for New York City, for America, and for the world as a whole – and we witness it unfold through the transformation of one girl, Anna, as she expands the definition of what a woman is capable of becoming. 

I received this book from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I received a free advance e-copy of this book and have chosen to write an honest and unbiased review. I have no personal affiliation with the author.  This is a very well written piece of historical fiction.  It is obvious that Jennifer Egan has done a great deal of research before writing this book.  They survived the Great Depression and the men are away fighting in WW II and women are entering the work force holding jobs that belonged to men before the war.  This book is a page-turner and Jennifer Egan is a great storyteller.  We have a little organized crime, a father that disappears, a disabled sister, the merchant marine, and a dark side to this thriller.  Anna, the main character, gets a job as a diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  She is gritty and gutsy when she needs to be but she is also a kind and gentle young woman.  I really enjoyed this book.  I hope that Jennifer Egan continues the story of Anna and her family.  This book is well worth the read and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
Was this review helpful?
There are few literary treats more enticing than some well-built historical fiction. You know the kind I mean, the stuff that is both meticulously researched and narratively compelling while also being made up of unforgettable and exquisite prose. Fiction that transports you to a real time and place and allows you to experience it in a manner that feels like truth.

And Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach” is as good as it gets.

Egan - best known for her Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning 2011 book “A Visit from the Goon Squad” – receiving plenty of well-deserved acclaim for this latest offering, an emotional epic that spans a particularly turbulent time in this country’s history, focusing on the ways that time and place can shape who we are, who we become and the paths that our lives ultimately take.

When Anna Kerrigan was a young girl, she spent much of her time glued to her father’s hip. Her dad Eddie was heavily impacted – as were most Americans – by the stock market crash that sent the country lurching into the Great Depression. However, Eddie was able to keep his family fed thanks to a willingness to serve at the pleasure of the union bosses down at the pier.

But when Anna accompanied her father to a meeting with a “legitimate businessman” by the name of Dexter Styles, the dynamic would be forever changed. On that day, her father began doing a different kind of work. The kind of work to which one doesn’t expose a young woman. The kind of work you lie about to your innocent family. The kind of work that can sometimes end in tragedy, mystery and pain.

The kind of work where you might simply … disappear.

Years later, during the latter stretch of World War II, a 19-year-old Anna Kerrigan is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, one of the multitude of women who entered the workforce when the country sent its men off to war. Not content with her important-yet-monotonous inspection job, she sets her mind to becoming a diver – the first female diver, in fact – in an effort to do something more. And with the strength of self and determination forged in the five years since her father vanished, she does just that.

But when Anna’s path once again crosses with that of Dexter Styles, she finds herself swept up into a whirlwind, one that she cannot - and perhaps doesn’t want to – control. She’s confronted with some ugly, difficult-to-accept truths about not only who her father was, but also who she herself might be.

Jennifer Egan is one of the most gifted writers of her generation. Few – if any – 21st century authors have both the storytelling acumen and brilliance of wordcraft that she brings to the table. Fascinating tales told via exquisite sentences – that’s Jennifer Egan.

“Manhattan Beach” puts her immense talents on full display. She digs down into the meat of these characters, uncovering the truth about who they are. It’s not just about what they do, but why they do it – layers upon layers of depth are neatly laid out before the reader. Egan lands emotional blow after emotional blow, impactful moments that manage to be both delicate and staggering.

Every storyline demands your attention, even as you wait to see how the threads of each will be spun together. And spin together they do, creating something beautiful and seamless. Rich with detail, the world created here is simply staggering. It’s largely insular – the lion’s share of the story is confined to the vicinity of the titular beach – yet it still manages to convey a sense of the epic.

Whether we’re at an inspection station or in a nightclub or somewhere atop or beneath the sea, “Manhattan Beach” is never anything less than captivating. The world that has been built and the people that populate it are magnificent – sharp and clear and utterly enticing.

At its heart, “Manhattan Beach” is a story about love. About its resilience and its long memory. About the joys and fears that come with it. About the pride and the shame. It is about the demands we make of ourselves and the lengths to which we will go to do what we believe to be right. It is a story that captures beautifully not just a time and a place, but a state of mind that was unique to a brief period in American history. Easily one of the best books of the year.
Was this review helpful?
Manhattan Beach is set in New York City and much of the story takes place during WWII.  The story focuses on the lives of three characters: Anna Kerrigan, her father Eddie and Dexter.  Anna accomplished a great deal by becoming a diver in a male dominated world at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Eddie proved to be quite surprising and Dexter was the most complex.  The characters are well defined and it was fascinating to see how their lives intertwined.
I found this to be an eloquently written, impeccably researched and profound novel. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
This historical fiction book was an interesting read. Told by an ensemble of cast, Anna Kerrigan, the first female diver helping to repair naval ships in war efforts was my favorite. Her independent nature and fiery spirit was inspiring. Anna, mixed in with the historical facts about the Brooklyn Naval Yard were my favorite parts of this book I also enjoyed Egan's descriptive writing, especially about New York during the war. I felt the story dragged on a bit too long; there were many pieces told that did not seem to the story to me. The other narratives were not as enjoyable for me. It is still a fun read though, just took me awhile to get through it.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed this book - it was a good, solid historical fiction book. I liked Ms. Egan's previous work, "A Visit from the Goon Squad," but I didn't LOVE it. I know, though, that there were lots of people who did. I'm not sure that this book will satisfy those fans, but it is just fine on its own merits. A good book club pick.
Was this review helpful?
An exhilarating work of historical fiction from an author who does not disappoint. The novel centers on Anna, a female diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII, her missing father, and Dexter Styles, the crooked nightclub owner Anna recognizes as someone who worked with her father before he disappeared. The plot was a bit stagnant and sparse, the characters a bit too empathetic and flat to fully entrap readers unassisted; the real standout was the novel's historical aspects. Specific, well-researched depictions of diving, the Naval Yard, and merchant ships make this ambitious novel succeed, alongside expectedly alluring prose from the brilliant Egan.
Was this review helpful?
I absolutely loved reading this book and sharing Anna Kerrigan's life journey. A story that was set in pre-war and during World War II. It dealt with so many topics that were current at that time. Men leaving their families because they couldn't handle the fact they could not provide for them was just one. It also dealt with women doing men's jobs and the harassment that those women dealt with on a daily basis.

I really felt like I was living in that era while reading this book. The author did such a great job in so aspects with this book.

A coming of age story that, for me, was excellent, unputdownable and one that I will surely think back to 2017 and consider it one of the best reads that year.

Now, I am certainly driven to read her first major prize winning book "A Visit From the Goon Squad" a copy of which I have, but have never done so.

Thanks to Scribner and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
I stayed up waaayyyyy past my bedtime this weekend, completely immersed in Manhattan Beach - this was one of my most anticipated fall reads.   I have read a lot of mixed reviews on this one and while I loved the story overall, there were a few things I wish Egan had written differently.  So let's start with the pros.  I loved Anna's character.... I loved her moxie and her fierce loyalty to her sister and her family.  I loved the historical detailing of the shipyards, the manufacturing process and the dives; it is very apparent that Egan did her research and I felt as though I was actually there along side Anna.
•
The issues I had with the book centered around the background story of the mafia.   I have always been a huge fan of mobster movies and books, so I was eager to see how Egan incorporated that story line into Anna's life.  In my opinion, the mob element is extremely watered down and that was disappointing to me.  I also had issues adjusting to Eddie's story in the latter half of the book.  It really threw the flow off for me and made what had been a seamless read up until that point suddenly become a bit choppy and odd.   I have been torn between 3.5 and 4 stars as I absolutely loved Anna's story line, the historical detail and the cover of this book.   I read this in two sittings and I thought the prose was beautiful so that gave me the final push to bump it to a 4 star read.  Many thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for sending me an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Part of what makes "Manhattan Beach" an immersive experience is the amount of care put into the historical setting. Egan clearly did her research - using the Navy Yard as the setting provided a unique look into the NYC WWII experience, especially through the eyes of a young working woman. The way Egan tied in immigrant life to disabled life to the criminal underground are parts of what made this an excellent read.
Was this review helpful?
I adore Jennifer Egan and this book was so worth the wait! Completely different and breath of fresh air. I will be telling everyone to read this book!
Was this review helpful?
First female diver (Anna) repairs battleships, while father (Eddie) deals with the mob.

Set in New York City during WWII, Anna is determined to work as the first female diver at Brooklyn’s New York Navy Yard repairing battleships. After her father, Eddie's, mysterious disappearance, Anna became the family's sole breadwinner allowing her mother, Agnes, to remain home to care for her disabled sister, Lydia. 

I can usually tell within the first few chapters how I'll be rating a book. In this case, for about the first half, I was mentally giving it a 4 star rating for the part that focused on Anna and 3 stars for the part about the gangster, Dexter. About halfway through the story, my interest in Dexter was finally piqued and my overall rating moved up to 4 stars. In the end, however, the gangster plot just didn't hold my interest. I found the gangster portion of the story too slow, too long, and ultimately unnecessary to Anna's story. If the author would have focused solely on Anna's struggle to succeed in a man's world -- as well as her complex relationship with her father -- then I would have given this book a solid 4 star rating. 

If you enjoy reading about strong female characters (I really, really enjoyed Anna's character) and/or want to learn about gangsters during this time period, then I would recommend this book. 

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review!
Was this review helpful?
This is a good solid historical novel and not at all what I was expecting from Jennifer Egan after The Goon Squad. It follows the lives of an Irish-American family in Brooklyn and is set during the depression and the Second World War. It’s mostly the story of Anna Kerrigan, whose father, a sort of fixer for a local gangster, disappears one day leaving Anna with her mother and disabled sister. When war breaks out, Anna, now a young woman, starts working in the naval shipyards, eventually becoming, unusually for a woman, a diver. She begins to uncover some clues that led to her father’s disappearance and decides to find the truth. There was much about this novel I enjoyed, in particular the historical detail and social realism of a young girl coming of age in New York during those turbulent years. It was all well-researched and explored the home front and women’s position in it with great authenticity. The storyline kept me engaged, although at times the characterisation and dialogue felt rather flat. And I found the ending when the father’s story is uncovered unconvincing and frankly unnecessary. So all in all a good read, but with nothing special or particularly original about it.
Was this review helpful?
One of the best books I have read this year. Love Egan's writing. The plot was amazing. It was clear that Egan had done her research and I learned so much about the war.  Loved the characters too :)
Was this review helpful?
Well researched look at Brooklyn after the Depression and on into the World War II years

This story centers on Anna Kerrigan, an Irish American girl whose mother used to be a Ziegfield Follies girl, her father does undisclosed jobs for Irish gangsters, and her sister is beautiful but disabled (with cerebral palsy perhaps).

Anna and her father are very close at the start of this story, with her going on many of his errands with him. Her father disappears one day, though, and the family dynamics change drastically after that.

This is a tale of families, of gangsters, of changes that happened in the U.S. while most able-bodied men were off fighting in WWII, of women doing traditionally men's jobs, of the Brooklyn Naval Yards, of the Merchant Marine, of love, of lust, and choices.

I enjoyed this historical novel which gave me an in-depth look into what life was like back in those difficult days. I appreciated Anna's character though I didn't like her much (if that makes sense).

I received this book from Scribner Books through Net Galley in exchange for my unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
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!
Was this review helpful?
Jennifer Egan sets Manhattan Beach in the Brooklyn of the 1930s and 1940s.  Manhattan Beach 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 Manhattan Beach 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.   Manhattan Beach 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 Manhattan Beach 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 Manhattan Beach:  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 Manhattan Beach 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 Manhattan Beach to A Visit from the Goon Squad, 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 Manhattan Beach available to me.
Was this review helpful?