My first experience with Jennifer Egan was A Visit From the Goon Squad. I loved that book; it’s one of my favorite books of all time. Well, my brother and his wife gave me Manhattan Beach (2017) by Jennifer Egan for Christmas awhile ago (probably in 2017). Even though I knew I wanted to read another Egan book, I kept putting off Manhattan Beach. I had trouble finding the time for a book I owned when there were always new library books to read. I felt kind of bad because I think my brother and his wife picked a perfect book for me. Finally, I stopped procrastinating and read it.
Once again, I am very impressed by Egan’s writing. Although this book didn’t capture my attention as strongly as A Visit From the Goon Squad, I was impressed by the complex story in the midst of important historical moments.
The book begins during the Great Depression in Brooklyn. Anna Kerrigan is 11 years old and she adores her father. He takes her along with him when he has to work, but this time he wants her to keep it a secret from her mother. They go out to a mansion near Manhattan Beach, where the mysterious Dexter Styles spends a long time with her father. Anna stays in the nursery with Dexter’s daughter. Anna is too young to understand, but later that afternoon she shares a moment with Dexter Styles that sticks with her.
Anna has a sister, Lydia, who is crippled. Her mother was a former dancer, but she stopped in order to care for Lydia. Anna’s father tries to care for Lydia, but he is unable to get over his repulsion of her abnormalities. As Anna grows up, her father distances himself from her. One day he disappears altogether.
Anna gets a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard when she is old enough. She is patriotically helping with the war effort. Because of her intense interest, strong body, and incredible willpower, Anna is able to become the first female diver. She’s entranced by her ability to experience the ocean, and pushes through the incredible sexism that she has to endure. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book.
One night at a club, Anna runs into Dexter Styles again. He doesn’t remember her from when she was a little girl, but they share a kind of fascination for each other. Dexter Styles seems to be an important figure in the mob. Slowly, Anna starts gaining some idea of what might have happened to her father. Egan points out the similarities between Dexter, who held power in the mob, and Dexter’s father-in-law, who was very powerful in the banking industry.
The relationship between Anna and her father was full of love, sadness, tragedy, and betrayal. And the book was full of history and interesting characters. Even though Manhattan Beach wasn’t as intensely readable as A Visit From the Goon Squad, I’m glad I read it.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.