October 24, 2018

Manhattan Beach: tour de force fiction from Jennifer Egan

Lovers of fiction may remember the unusual and beautifully crafted writing in 2010’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

Egan has hit another literary home run with Manhattan Beach, a more conventional work that still features her luminous writing. Take a peak at her research in the back of the book and you discover some of the subjects covered in her intriguing story.

The female lead character, Anna Kerrigan, works in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII, measuring components for battleships. She manages to push her way into a diving program that features laughably bulky and primitive equipment and a boss who is decidedly against women in his employ.

Hovering around her central arc are depictions of New York’s organized crime operation which employs her father after his stints in vaudeville and his time as a stockbroker before the 1929 Crash. Anna meets his boss, Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner with shady ties as a little girl and again becomes involved in his life as an adult.

Two sections in particular struck me speechless with their beauty and immediacy. Styles helps Anna take her developmentally disabled sister, Lydia to Manhattan Beach where she is able to commune with the sea and sky.

Without tipping a plot point, I will also note a series of scenes concerning a merchant marine ship that is being hunted by German U-boats off the coast of Africa. I was on the edge of my proverbial chair with this riveting account of life aboard a ship, especially one encountering mortal dangers.

This is not pop fiction although the prose reads like a thriller. Egan has managed to use her stunning skills to create a blend of historical fiction with a masterful depiction of unforgettable characters.

Manhattan Beach just may be a book to put on your summer reading list.

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