Review: Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

34467031My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Date read: 10 September 2017

Published by Scribner, October 2017

Review: Disappointing, rambling, disjointed.

Find it on Goodreads.

Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America, and the world.

That was disappointing. I adored A Visit from the Goon Squad; it was one of my favourite books of last year, so you can imagine how beyond excited I was to read this book – I took my sweet time starting it to be able to read it at the just the right moment, I was so sure I would love this. But I didn’t. I enjoyed the first chapter and was ok with the ones following – until around page 150 – when I realized that I have no idea what the point is, what the book is about, what I am supposed to feel. The book is both too narrow and too broad and as a result left me feeling slightly bemused and more than a little disappointed.

The book tells three wildly differing stories: Anna’s story and her struggle to find her own place in a world made for men; her father’s story and his problems with the mob; and Dexter Styles’ story, a nightclub owner with ties to the mob and to high society. These stories are intertwined and related but seem to be set in completely different genres. While I enjoyed Anna and her interactions with her sister and the men she works with when she becomes the first women diver at New York’s harbour, I thought the whole gangster story line was both superfluous and infuriating. If it had been cut, the book would have been 250 pages shorter and much better for it.

The jumps in time (which is something I often enjoy) underscored the rambling feeling of this book; they made it near impossible for me to care about what was happening because important events were glossed over or told in an aside. People would disappear, just to reappear in time for them to be needed for plot related reasons; some things made no sense for the characters involved; some plot twists came out of the left field and were left unexplained.

It seems like a book with very many different ideas and many different themes to explore that never manages to become a cohesive whole.

First sentence: “They had driven all the way to Mr. Style’s house before Anna realized that her father was nervous.”

I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest review.

3 thoughts on “Review: Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

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