Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan: A Book Review

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Jennifer Egan, known for her unique form, has a new book out and while it is a departure from the stories that we have loved, I’ll bet you that Manhattan Beach is going to be a new favourite. (At least, it is for me). I received the ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Part mystery, part historical epic, Manhattan Beach has something for just about everyone.

Three Stories

While some reviewers may claim that the book feels disjointed, I liked the variety between the storylines and felt that they intersected in interesting and unexpected ways. Perhaps those readers who first fell in love with A Visit From the Goon Squad weren’t expecting a narrative that follows a different and more linear path.

Egan takes us from the Great Depression into World War Two, splitting the narrative voices between Anna, who struggles to find a place among the men at the naval stockyard, Anna’s father and Dexter Styles (a night club owner). Was it a shock to be suddenly dropped into he 1940’s with an adult Anna? Sure. But I felt that the resulting mystery of Eddie’s disappearance made up for this jolt in the narrative time-frame. It was fascinating to see such a well-researched historical novel unfold from three different points of view, because it added a well-rounded perspective to the story.

A Feisty Heroine

Who doesn’t love an awesome, strong heroine to cheer on? Perhaps my favourite part of Manhattan Beach was following Anna as she becomes the first woman diver in New York Harbour. At a recent interview at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon, Jennifer Egan mentioned that she interviewed the real-life inspiration for Anna’s character and that a lot of her research was about going beneath the surface of the time that she was writing in, to bring more emotional depth to her characters. With Anna’s character in particular, I felt that this was true.

If you love books that celebrate feisty women and take you on a wild ride through the seedy gang world of New York in the 1930’s-1940’s, pick up a copy of Manhattan Beach.

 

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