Prepare yourself for a real winner! I swallowed this unique new novel whole. MANHATTAN BEACH is Jennifer Egan’s newest novel. It’s filled with delightful prose and strong characters who will stay with you forever.
MANHATTAN BEACH opens in NYC in 1934. Eddie Kerrigan is looking for work. He has a wife and two daughters to support. One daughter is severely disabled and needs a special wheelchair asap. One morning he takes Anna, his healthy daughter, along to meet Dexter Styles, a mobster. Dexter’s home is a mansion on MANHATTAN BEACH. Anna is almost twelve-years-old and it’s a day she will never forget. She rids herself of her shoes and steps into the frigid Atlantic.“She unrolled her wool stockings and placed her white, bony, long-for-her-age feet in 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. “ Meanwhile, Eddie and Dexter are deep in hidden conversation. Eddie is about to leave the clutches of the corrupt union official he’s been working for, and jump feet first into bed with the mob.
Some years later we find Anna working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard inspecting parts for the battle ships. America is deep into the Second World War and women have stepped into men’s roles in the working world. She’s now the sole supporter of her mom and sister. You see, her father has disappeared without a trace. Left the family who adored him…
One day while on a break at work Anna walks out on the dock and watches a diver maneuvering into the water next to one of the big ships. It’s life-changing for her. She makes it her mission to become the first female civilian diver. She deals with every obstacle you can imagine and then some. The descriptions of the “dress” they wear to dive in back then is just amazing. Those archaic diving suits weighed more than two hundred pounds. She is determined.
One night while making a rare visit to a nightclub in the city Anna meets up with Dexter Styles. Little known to her Dexter now owns this club. And they begin a complicated relationship that brings this story to yet another level. And then Dexter says he can help Anna find out what happened to her father. So, slowly and quietly, we are given this story between the lines.
On a memorable trip to show her sister the ocean for the first time, Anna is thinking: ” At the end of the street, under a gray expanse of sky, she sensed the ocean breathing like someone asleep.” This passage is more than an example of the moving writing. The water is a true character throughout the novel.
This novel is deep and rich and full of strong characters that keep the story on track. Dealing with class, race, and even gender issues, Egan does not miss a beat. This, her first historical novel, is filled with factual information taken from her fastidious research. WW11 and the NY mob scene are depicted vividly. Showgirls, gangsters, killers, union men, shipwrecks, graft, and teeming are just a part of the big picture.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Eddie Kerrigan could have been the title of this novel. But this book is so much more than that. It’s full of so much heart. Has so much to offer. All while being beautifully written by Jennifer Egan who is a superb writer at the top of her game!
Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her 2010 novel, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.
My review copy was furnished by the nice publishing people at Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster, in exchange for an honest review. I loved it! I will be bringing it to my upcoming seasonal lectures. You are in for such a treat.