Book Review, Historical Fiction

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan: A Book Review

Manhattan Beach

Title: Manhattan Beach
Author: Jennifer Egan
Published: October 3rd, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Obtained: Book of the Month

Synopsis: One day, twelve-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father to the home of Dexter Styles, who she believes will be an integral part in the lives of her family. Years later, her father, Eddie Kerrigan, has disappeared, and Anna and her mother and sister have moved on. She works at the Naval Yard in Brooklyn, and soon becomes the first woman diver during WWII. One day, she runs into Dexter Styles in one of his nightclubs, and questions arise as to what really happened to her father. Beginning an investigation, she soon receives answers to questions she never even thought to ask.

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I’m still extremely on the fence about Manhattan Beach. On one side, I love stories written during WWII, and the fact that Anna works to become the first female diver was very appealing for me. On the other hand, I’m just not sure where Egan was going with the narrative. I wanted to absolutely love this book, but I’m not sure I really do.

The Characters

The story switches POVs between Anna, her father Eddie, and Dexter Styles. Anna becomes a really well-developed character, and she is tested throughout the novel with obstacles that surround women during the time period. She is dedicated to her father and, after he leaves, she becomes more dedicated to her family. Her sister, Lydia, is crippled in some way, and Anna only ever wants what’s best for her.

Dexter and Eddie are still a bit of a mystery to me, especially when it comes to their involvement with each other. I was really confused as to what they do career-wise. That’s probably because I don’t fully understand the world of gangsters. I didn’t feel like they were explored that well, and that Egan really wanted us to focus more on their interactions with Anna, which I can totally understand. The story revolves around her, but a little more character development for these two would have benefitted for me.

The Setting

Obviously, as the title reads, everything important in the plot of this story happens on Manhattan Beach, where Dexter Stiles lives. The ocean plays a role in all the main characters’ lives, and it’s described in rather rich detail. As I mentioned, I love ANYTHING to do with WWII stories, and the vibe I got from reading about this time period still hasn’t left me. I read most of this book while listening to war hits from the 1940s, which really brought me back to that time and helped insert myself into the story completely.

There was a lot of detailed descriptions about Anna’s diving into the river to work on the boats. These scenes seriously scared the crap out of me. The first time Anna dives=d, she experienced slight panic and overexertion trying to build a box 30 feet underwater. It made me panic as well, and brought me back to when I was in Punta Cana snubadiving. Look it up. It’s a real thing! Basically it’s a cross between snorkeling and scuba, and when I first descended 30 feet underwater, I panicked. I was able to go back down and enjoy myself, but I’ll never forget that first feeling of being surrounded by water and unable to breathe.

Conclusion

I really wanted to love this book. It had all the makings of a great historical fiction novel, but I just think it lacked direction for me. There were some wonderful parts that I really enjoyed reading, and overall I couldn’t put it down. Maybe it’s because I was hoping for something to happen.

Rating

3 Star Rating

Memorable Quote: “Becoming aware of this deeper story made it burn through the allegorical surface of whatever plot she was reading until she found herself not reading at all, but holding the book and remembering. Puzzling.”

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