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Manhattan Beach (2017)
by Jennifer Egan
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Books Read in 2017 (252)
Top Five Books of 2018 (268)
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Historical Fiction (472)
Books about World War II (208)
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Touching yet exciting. Not just great drama, but also great depiction of the time and place. ( )
When historical fiction feels completely real, it’s a testament to the research the author must have put in. Egan does a wonderful job recreating New York in the Depression era, and as usual, introduces a marvelous set of characters with which to tell her story. My only quibble was with Dexter’s ending, which felt a bit clichéd and out of character. Apart from that, a masterpiece of historical storytelling.
This book opens when Anna is twelve, accompanying her father, Eddie, to the beach home of an organized crime boss, Dexter Styles. To provide for his family during the Great Depression, Eddie has reluctantly taken advantage of his relationship with unsavory connections to become a union “bagman,” and later, “an ombudsman” for the mob. Fast-forward several years, and we find Eddie has disappeared, leaving his family with no idea what happened to him. Anna takes a job at the shipyard during WWII, and attempts to make her way in the world.
This book couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be. Was it a mystery, a maritime tale, an organized crime saga, a family drama, a coming of age story? It was a bit of each, but ended up not doing any of them particularly well.
What worked for me:
- Anna and her father were interesting characters, and Anna’s devotion to her disabled sister was touchingly rendered
- Historical setting and shipyard activities described in a vivid manner
- Strong female characters
- Beautifully written in many places
- The ending
What didn’t work for me:
- Lots of unbelievable elements, inconsistencies, and convenient plot devices
- Significant time spent on secondary characters that didn’t add much, if anything, to the story
- Lack of cohesiveness and meandering nature of the storyline
- Uneven pacing - the first 2/3 very slow, then a flurry of activity, then slow again
- Didn’t find it particularly compelling
- Liberal (and unnecessary) use of ethnic slurs
I had not read any of Egan’s previous efforts, but was aware she had won the Pulitzer for A Visit from the Goon Squad, and this one was nominated for the National Book Award, so perhaps my expectations were too high. I think many readers of historical fiction will enjoy it.
Made it to about 46% read and just couldn’t force myself to keep going. So much potential for an interesting story, but it all seemed bloodless to me.
Really enjoyed this - I love most books by Egan
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.
"The long-awaited, daring, and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad. 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. Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan's first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a spectacular novel by one of the greatest writers of our time"--
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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