Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Title: Manhattan Beach
Written by: Jennifer Egan
Published: October 3, 2017 by Scribner (Simon and Schuster)

(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad. 

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.

I read A Visit from the Good Squad years ago, before I really started blogging and was reading a lot more literary fiction. I really enjoyed it so when I saw Egan was coming out with a new book last year I had wanted to read it but never did. So when I saw the audiobook for download from the library I snagged it and I am so glad I did because this was just what I was interested in reading.

Lately I have been really enjoying historical fiction and this book was a great example of the genre. I know I've said this before but I like historical fiction which takes a lesser known event from a period of time and explores it with fictional characters. That's exactly what this book did. The book took place in the late 1930's and early 1940's in New York City. It explored many different aspects of the period including gangsters, the Great Depression, and World War II. I liked the portions about WWII the most as we got to see life on the homefront, particularly women working in factories and other jobs in which the men had left to go fight. Seeing Anna becoming a diver for the Navy was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed seeing her overcome the assumptions people have over her strength do to her sex. But there were also more interesting layers to this story of the war that I think fans of historical fiction, particularly those who like books about WWII, will enjoy.

But I think the heart of this story was the characters. Like A Visit from the Good Squad this book is about multiple people and how their lives intertwine and overlap. The main character here is arguably Anna. When we first meet her she is twelve and following her father around on his jobs for local gangsters. We see what family life is like for her through both her eyes and her fathers which adds to the story even more. You can feel their love for one another and know how much it is reciprocated. Then as Anna grows up we follow her working at the Navy Yard and making some not great decisions. But she is seriously so sympathetic so when she is faced with the consequences you are invested. The final perspective is Dexter Stiles, a gangster who Eddie works for who Anna ends up meeting again years later after her father disappears. While Dexter's perspectives didn't have the same emotional resonance they still drew me in and added to the overall story.

Speaking of the story, this was a much slower narrative than I usually enjoy. It wasn't all action and adventure with high stakes although there were definitely aspects of that in this story. One of the storylines in particular had an extreme survival component and I really enjoyed that. For the most part these were really three, maybe even four, very different stories that only seem to connect because the characters were connected. Narratively speaking they were all very different but in the end I think they came together in a way that was interesting and engaging. Oddly enough, this book read like a historical mystery even though there wasn't really a mystery. It just had those vobes and as a fan of that genre I appreciated that.

As I mentioned, i listened to the audiobook of this one and I am really glad that I did. Each perspective had a different narrator. and they all did a fantastic job of developing the characters and setting the tone of the story. Both Eddie and Dexter were narrated by actors and they did a fantastic job. One of the reasons I wanted to read this is that Eddie is narrated by Norbert Leo Butz who I love. He really should narrate more audios because he did an amazing job. Over time I found myself forgetting it was him and falling into the story and the characters he was creating. But all the narrators did a great job and I loved the way that they would switch mid-chapter when the perspective would change. I usually hate that when I'm reading but with an audiobook with more than one narrator it works really well.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Manhattan Beach. It's not my usual read so it was a nice palatte cleanser which is just what I needed. It has a good historical setting, engaging characters, and an interweaving plot that pulls you in a takes you on a surprisingly emotional journey.

I give Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 9 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. If you are a fan of historical fiction and have not read this yet I recommend picking it up wither next time you are at the library or if you are in a bookstore and looking for something to read. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Have you read Manhattan Beach? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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