Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

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Author of The Invisible Circus, Emerald City and Other Stories, The Keep, and A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan has received numerous awards for her writing, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles book prize. Her latest novel, published October of this year, is called Manhattan Beach. 

In the midst of World War II, Anna Kerrigan finds herself working in a Naval Yard on a battleship named “Missouri”. Formerly a man’s job, the job opened up when men were needed to fight in the war. Anna was hard-working, but nothing intrigued her more than diving to work below the ships. She requested the job but was not taken seriously by her employers who didn’t think she could handle the task. Anna was also in search of her missing father, who abandoned her and her family several years ago. She went in search of a man named Dexter Styles, after learning he had previously worked with her father.

Without revealing her true identity to Styles, she appeared at his nightclubs to search for him and gain information about her father. Anna formed a relationship with him to gain his trust, later asking him to take her disabled sister to Manhattan Beach, so she can “see the sea” at least once in her lifetime. Anna clings to the hope that the mysterious connection between this night club owner and her father will give an explanation as to why he left so unexpectedly. It takes the unlikely pair, and a diving experience that finally leads to answers, in order for Anna to come to terms with her reality.

The plot of the book jumps between the perspectives of Anna, Dexter Styles, and her father, Eddie Kerrigan. The reader is able to see the story unfold through multiple sources, gaining far more information than any of the characters receive. The reader learns that Eddie worked for the merchant marines, and that Dexter Styles was more informed of his location than he led Anna to believe. The pacing moved slowly at times and the chapters between Eddie and DexterI found myself longing for Anna’s chapters because they moved forward in a way the other perspectives did not.

The character development progressed more than the plot seemed to. Anna had grown into a young, independent woman, who was forced to leave her troubles in order to build a life for herself. Eddie, although still dreading the idea of returning to his family, did begin to regret his mistakes. Even Styles, who had no real interest in Eddie and Anna’s relationship in the beginning was willing to help her discover what happened to her father by the end of the novel.

The style of writing was well done. Egan has a smooth voice that pulls the reader into the story. Heavy description and emotion brought the story to life, from scenes deep under water, to simple tasks working in the Naval Yard. The scenes were easy to follow. Combining three very different characters brought the story together in an unusual way. From the beginning, I wasn’t sure how these three separate plots would bring together one plot, but Egan was able to pull it off in a compelling story.

This book was enjoyable, although there were times that I wished scenes could have been shorter. Often I didn’t understand why something happened but the overall structure and plot of the book made up for that. I would recommend this book because it is different from traditional World War II fiction stories and it is informative and entertaining.

 

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