STARRED REVIEW
October 2017

Where the water takes her

By Jennifer Egan
Review by

In the wake of her dazzling Pulitzer Prize winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan’s deftly plotted new novel, Manhattan Beach, is a surprise. Where A Visit is a stylistically adventurous exploration of the American punk rock music scene that adopts a form of storytelling somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories, Manhattan Beach is a big, twisty, traditional novel set during the Depression and World War II.

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BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, October 2017

In the wake of her dazzling Pulitzer Prize winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan’s deftly plotted new novel, Manhattan Beach, is a surprise. Where A Visit is a stylistically adventurous exploration of the American punk rock music scene that adopts a form of storytelling somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories, Manhattan Beach is a big, twisty, traditional novel set during the Depression and World War II.

As the novel opens, 11-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father, Eddie, a Brooklyn dockworker and small-time bagman, on a mysterious visit to Dexter Styles’ Manhattan Beach mansion. Styles has one foot in the legitimate business world and the other in the underworld. Until her father’s visit with Styles, Anna has been his constant companion; after the visit, her father becomes more distant and more a denizen of late nights in faraway places. After several years, Eddie simply disappears. One strand of the remainder of the novel concerns Anna’s poignant efforts to discover the fate of her father, which eventually brings her deeper into the orbit of the elusive Styles.

At the same time, Anna becomes the sole supporter for her mother and her disabled sister. She finds wartime work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There she becomes fascinated by the deep-sea divers who work underwater to repair war ships, a profession closed to women. But because this is wartime and there is a shortage of men, Anna manages through sheer determination and grit to take on this treacherous work and to develop a skill that will later help in her search for her father.

Egan writes with great skill and illustrative power. Particularly beautiful are her descriptions of the sea and its mesmerizing effects on her characters. In her afterword, Egan describes the vast amount of research she did on the World War II-era Brooklyn Navy Yard, and it shows. Her portrayals of life in the yard and the perils and mechanics of the work of divers are marvels to behold.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

By Jennifer Egan
Scribner
ISBN 9781476716732

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