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Manhattan Beach: A Novel by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach: A Novel (edition 2017)

by Jennifer Egan (Author)

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1,0767111,107 (3.74)134
Title:Manhattan Beach: A Novel
Authors:Jennifer Egan (Author)
Info:Scribner (2017), 448 pages
Collections:OWN and need to read, Your library

Work details

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

  1. 00
    The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These compelling, sweeping novels offer richly descriptive historical settings, memorable characters, and ambitious narratives that incorporate social turmoil and crime. The Given Day is set at the end of World War I; Manhattan Beach during World War II.… (more)
  2. 00
    Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (jbvm)

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Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
Detailed and engaging. ( )
  jconnell | Aug 6, 2018 |
I opted to read this book because it kept appearing on the lists for various literary awards; for example, it was nominated for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and longlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It also won the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction. I was also interested in the author who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for a previous novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Most of the action takes place in Brooklyn during the years of the Depression and World War II. The novel opens in 1934 in a home on Manhattan Beach where Anna Kerrigan, her father Eddie, and a man named Dexter Styles are brought together. The action then switches to 1942 when Anna is 19 and working in the Brooklyn Naval Yard helping to support her mother Agnes and her severely disabled sister Lydia because Eddie vanished from their lives five years earlier. Anna encounters Dexter, who turns out to be a syndicate boss, and sets out to determine what he knows about her father’s mysterious disappearance.

The story is narrated from the perspectives of Anna, Eddie and Dexter whose lives become intertwined in unexpected ways. Each of these three becomes well-known to the reader; we learn about their obstacles, internal conflicts, strengths, and flaws. For me it is Anna who emerges as most interesting. She is highly spirited and fiercely independent. She has an unstinting love for her sister and a relentless ambition to become a diver. People think of her as “a good girl; a smiling, innocent girl” but “she was not good in the way they thought.” She has a passionate side which she keeps concealed from virtually everyone.

Anna keeps many secrets. For instance, she hides her identity from Dexter and keeps a huge secret from her mother. The others also have secrets: Dexter has both professional and personal affairs which he wants to remain hidden. Eddie tells his family nothing about the real nature of his work. And then there are the secrets of secondary characters; the reader is not always privy to them. The one that intrigues me is whether Harriet knew what fate awaited her husband.

The ocean is a recurring symbol. For both Anna and Dexter, it provides solace and escape. From the beginning, Anna is drawn to the sea; during her visit to Manhattan Beach, she insists on dipping her feet into the icy water: “Each foot delivered an agony of sensation to her heart, one part of which was a flame of ache that felt unexpectedly pleasant.” Anna makes it a personal goal to bring Lydia to the sea. Dexter is endlessly fascinated by the sea, claiming it “was never the same on any two days, not if you really looked.” Eddie initially thinks of the ocean as “a wasteland” but comes to see it as “an infinite hypnotic expanse” which also brings him both peace and escape. Water is traditionally a symbol of renewal and new life. Manhattan was the gateway to new lives for the many immigrants who came ashore there, and the ocean certainly brings Anna and Eddie new lives. Of course, Anna’s new life is also helped by the war, an event which allowed the breaking down of gender barriers so she can become a pioneering diver helping the war effort by performing underwater repairs to ships.

Though Anna is very much a sensualist, I struggled with her relationship with Dexter. She suspects that he has information about what happened to her father, but she has such an intimate relationship with him? When he takes her to a specific location, surely she would understand that he might have a deeper involvement than she initially suspected? Yet she still makes the decision she does at Dr. Soffit’s office? (Interestingly, her choice of the name Leon, thereby evoking her first sexual encounter, could be interpreted as emphasizing her sensualism.)

There are other flaws which deserve mention. The unsanctioned diving scene requires some suspension of disbelief. Eddie speaks of the ocean as a place full of “dead bodies” so could someone be taken to the exact location of one of those bodies? Characters also disappear at convenient times. One character, for instance, is conveniently and simply removed twice when her presence would hinder plot development. Sometimes minor characters steal the show and demand more attention; the bosun is someone I’d loved to have learned more about.

This book is difficult to classify. It is an adventure tale, a coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a historical novel all in one. Despite its weaknesses, it has inspired me to seek out the author’s previous works.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Aug 3, 2018 |
Really interesting book, set in the time around WW2. Young girl, goes with her father to visit a man on a Sunday. Life gets better - father disappears - girl grows older and works as a diver to repair ships. Recognizes man, who is a nightclub owner (i.e gangster) and introduces herself with a different name. Lots of different times and places I've never read about before. Major improvement in writing focus from this author's earlier novels. ( )
  Pmaurer | Jul 12, 2018 |
The novel spans the years from 1934 until the end of World War II. Anna Kerrigan lives with her parents, Eddie and Agnes, and their disabled daughter, Lydia. The Kerrigan's have seen their fortunes sharply after the crash. Eddie had been doing quite well in the market and Agnes was a beauty who danced for the Follies. Eddie has been reduced to being a "gofer" for the local longshoremen's boss, getting paid largely as a bag man for delivering bribes to local politicians and police. Anna often accompanies Eddie on his rounds, one of which took him to Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner and gangster. Eddie makes a business proposal to Styles that will have a great impact on his, and Anna's, future.

Eddie disappears mysteriously after leaving his family with cash and access to his bank accounts. They do not understand why he has abandoned them, but Anna and her mother are consumed with their love and care for Lydia and go on living without Eddie's presence.

Anna gains employment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard doing menial and boring work. She spots a crew of divers and becomes obsessed with taking up this male-only and dangerous work. This seems unlikely to happen, but the war effort has opened up many male jobs to females and, after, a scornful reaction by the divers' boss, she shows her competence and is accepted into the field.

Anna encounters Styles in one of his nightclubs and, remembering her and her father's encounter with him when she was a child, she gets close to him. She thinks he might have a clue to her father's disappearance. Styles is attracted to Anna (who does not reveal their earlier encounter) and they start a romantic affair. At some point, she realizes that Styles was knowledgeable about Eddie's disappearance and gets him to reveal that Eddie has been killed and dumped off Staten Island. We learn that Eddie, who had been an informant for Styles about corruption among his associates, was a snitch for the Feds and, when discovered, marked for elimination. Anna is determined to verify Eddie's death and arranges an illicit dive in the area. (While she's down below, Styles persuades her diving associates to dive himself to search with her. I found this a bit implausible and unnecessary to the story line). Anna locates her father's pocket watch at the spot, conclusive proof that he was dumped there.

The story shifts to Eddie as a merchant seaman on the lam from the gangsters in the East. Eddie has become third mate on a liberty ship and, during a voyage to deliver war materials to the Mid-East, his ship is sunk and he survives a harrowing lift raft escape to the shore of Africa.

Styles has fallen afoul of his gangster bosses and he is killed. Anna, who had been intimate with Styles and now pregnant, determines to move to the west coast where she can secure a job as a diver at the Navy yard on Mare Island and, by claiming she's a war widow, have the baby without disgrace. She eventually is sought out by Eddie and, after some rancor over his disappearance and failure to make contact, they reconcile. It turned out that Eddie, who had had some experience as a vaudeville escape artist, was able to escape from the underwater chains that were intended to kill him.

There are several lines in this story that make it much more than just a crime thriller. The characters are multi-dimensional. The depiction of the disabled sister, Lydia, and her family's care for her is moving. She eventually dies, but her impact on the family, especially Anna and Agnes, was profound. Dexter Styles, despite being a hood, has married into a higher class and he shows a sort of moral rectitude that one wouldn't expect in a crook. His father-in-law is quite politically influential and seems to respect Styles as long as Styles is faithful to his wife. His father-in-law eventually brings about Styles's fall from gangster grace. Interestingly, Styles has a sense of propriety about this family relations, particularly his hopes for proper behavior by his daughter, that adds a dimension not usually seen in this class of persons.

The aspect of women's role in the war effort was fascinating. That Anna was able to crack the male domain of physical and dangerous work gives us a peek at changing attitudes towards women that finally became firmly established, albeit only after decades. ( )
  stevesmits | Jun 13, 2018 |
I tore through this book pretty quickly, although I was left feeling that I was missing something by the end. I enjoyed the historical details of New York in the 30's and I legitimately learned something about diving. On the other hand, this felt like a pretty typical historical novel when I was expecting something a little more. The ending also felt wrong to me, although I could see how it was a mirror of the beginning. ( )
  duchessjlh | Jun 11, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
Egan has wisely chosen not to compete with “Goon Squad” and its postmodern razzle-dazzle. Instead, her new book leaps into the past, offering us a story built on sturdy older forms polished to a high sheen.

“Manhattan Beach” — longlisted for a National Book Award even before it was released — is a historical novel set during World War II in New York....All the harbor details — from the dangerous mechanics of underwater work to the irritating chauvinism of Navy officers — feel dutifully researched. The whole novel, in fact, boasts its tweedy historical accuracy...All these strong currents — from noir thriller to family drama to wartime ad­ven­ture — eventually return to the private moment that opens “Manhattan Beach.” If that ending is surprisingly hopeful, it’s never false, and it dares to satisfy us in a way that stories of an earlier age used to.
They may also understand, rightly, that this will turn out to be a more traditional novel than the raucous and inventive “Goon Squad,” although the two books offer many of the same pleasures, including fine turns of phrase, a richly imagined environs and a restless investigation into human nature....Thus, the mystery of “Manhattan Beach” resides not in whether these three will meet again, but when. And a central satisfaction of the novel resides in how far-flung Egan’s characters will become and what varied terrain they will explore, before being inevitably drawn back together..Turning their backs on the crowded constraints of their urban lives, all three look to the ocean as a realm that while inherently dangerous also promises the potential for personal discovery and an almost mystical liberty. This is a novel that deserves to join the canon of New York stories.
Unpredictably, Egan has written something that looks at first glance like a traditional historical novel.

A work of remarkable cinematic scope, Manhattan Beach portrays the lives of an Irish family in Brooklyn, set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and then the second world war...Egan’s decision to withhold crucial scenes until late on ends up feeling disappointing, even if one can appreciate the reasons for her doing so...This is a novel that will pull you in and under and carry you away on its rip tides. In particular, Anna’s plight as a woman whose will is larger than her circumstances is dramatised with tremendous power. Its resonances continue to wash over the reader long after the novel ends.
The subject matter of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan's latest novel, Manhattan Beach, is not particularly revelatory. The book's overarching themes are certainly well-worn, its characters the kind we're accustomed to. The book tackles precarious familial bonds, secrets and lies, love and lust, abandonment and individualism – all ideas we've encountered in literature many times before..What is revelatory, however, is how beautifully drawn, vivid and moving this familiar setup is when crafted by Egan's skilled hand. Although the basic structure and setting is perhaps standard, her talent renders it anew – making Manhattan Beach a sparkling, lush epic of a novel....But more than any other ingredient, it's the complex dynamics that propel this human tragedy where Manhattan Beach finds its deepest strength. Even when we can predict the unravelling that is to come, it is no less enthralling. The experiences of these characters ring true, as do their flaws, their desires and their downfalls.
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Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.
For Christina, Matthew, and Alexander Egan, and for Robert Egan---our uncle Bob
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They'd driven all the way to Mr. Styles house before Anna realized that her father was nervous.
How could he stay away when she was waiting so hard?
Luck was the single thing that could rearrange facts. It could open a door where there was no door. A crooked game was worse than unfair; it was a cosmic violation.
"If wishing could make men die, there'd be nary a live one left."
“… this was the problem of men and women, what made the professional harmony he envisaged so difficult to achieve. Men ran the world, and they wanted to fuck the women. Men said “Girls are weak” when in fact girls made them weak.”
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Book description
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time. Amazon
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Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career with the Ziegfeld Follies, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a nightclub, she chances to meet Dexter Styles again, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father's life, the reasons he might have vanished"--… (more)

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