Author: Jennifer Egan
Published: October 3, 2017
Where I picked up my book: Library
Key Words: Historical Fiction, History, New York City, Female lead, WWII
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Synopsis (via Goodreads):
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.
This book had been on my radar since it got longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and then my wife read it and fell in love (she and I read very, VERY different types of books, so this made me put my guard up a bit if I’m being honest lol), but then it was chosen as our city-wide read and I immediately put it onto the reserve list at the library. I should preface this review by saying that Historical Fiction is not something I ever gravitate to. I’m more of a Contemporary Fiction type of person, but I was fully prepared to look outside of my wheelhouse on this one and I’m glad I did. I was excited and although I had heard mixed reviews (either totally raving reviews or “nope” review, it seemed like there was no in-between), I was determined to come to my own conclusions. First, I absolutely loved Anna’s story line and found myself frantically reading though the various other plots in order to get back to Anna’s. It gave me that Rosie the Riveter feeling and I was engrossed. I wanted to don my checkered scarf and blue shirt and join the resistance. I’m always in for a strong, female lead taking on non-traditional roles, and this one sucked me in. And her relationship with her disabled sister brought tears to my eyes more than once. I also loved the research that went into this novel. As a reader, I could tell it was immense and I appreciated it, even though at times, it seemed to bog down the plot rhythm a bit. After reading this, I now completely understand the draw people have to historical fiction. It’s learning…but with a made up, but could be true plot 😉 But in all seriousness, Egan did her research and her descriptions and story were so much stronger for that! With that said, the other plot lines and characters fell a bit short for me and I found myself saying, “Wait…who are we talking about here” more than once. And the mobster/crime boss storyline, I wasn’t invested in at all and it didn’t seem to be as well developed as I would have liked. It was a bit of a challenge for me to see how some of the other characters related to each other…but I didn’t even mind because I just wanted to see what else Anna was up to.
This is a solid, well-researched novel that pulled me in, and at times, left me wanting more. Not more research, not more characters, not more words, but maybe a little less historical fiction and author-researched plot points, and just more fiction. Have you read it? Let me know what you thought!