Manhattan Beach feels like Jennifer Egan wrote three (maybe even four) short stories and then decided they could possibly be connected so she loosely strung them together and called them a novel. The A plot is Anna, a young woman who works in the Navy yard in New York during WW2 who finds her calling as a diver. She has an overprotective mother, a crippled sister and an absent father. The B plot is about a gangster named Dexter Styles who becomes a bit infatuated with Anna after she goes to his nightclub with a friend. Styles doesn’t realize the two met nearly a decade prior when her father brought her to his house to play with his daughter. Once she reveals herself to him it complicates their already complicated relationship. And the C plot involves Anna’s father following his disappearance from Anna’s life.
“I’m Anna Kerrigan, Eddie Kerrigan’s daughter. That’s who I’ve been all this time.”
She thought he might hit her back. The hands clutching the steering wheel were scarred, like a boxer’s. He took a long breath. At last he turned to her.
There are some pacing issues and at times it felt like Egan was free writing and didn’t have an outline or plan in place on where she wanted to go. Was this a coming of age novel? A historical look at women in the workplace during WW2? A noir/ gangster/ mystery? A romance? She had so many threads that it just got overwhelming while still remaining a bit boring in places.
What is most frustrating is Anna’s story, and her interactions with Dexter, were really interesting and complex but every time it gets going we are brought into the men’s subpar story lines. I really didn’t care about Eddie’s story at all. I also felt incredibly shortchanged by the ending and would have gladly traded the pages devoted to Eddie’s journey to a more expansive resolution. Seriously, the last few chapters could have been expanded into their own (better) book! Egan is undoubtedly a talented writer and it elevates a choppy plot that would have suffered greatly in less capable hands.
3.5 rounded up