*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Manhattan Beach
Author: Jennifer Egan
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Synopsis from 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.
Although Jennifer Egan has published quite a few books, this is the first novel of hers that I’ve read. I did enjoy Manhatten Beach. It’s an interesting perspective on a World War II story, told from the perspective of a woman at home in New York City who is a part of the female workforce that steps up as the men move overseas to fight. I really enjoyed the main character, Anna. She has a lot of pluck and a desire to prove herself in a male-run world. She’s unafraid to go after what she wants and she’s keen to learn how best to get her way in this era that stands against her as a woman. Anna is haunted by the loss of her father who disappeared when she was a young child–a mystery that has long remained unsolved. Anna’s existence is driven by her desire to know what happen and to seek some closure. In her travels, she encounters a wealthy night-club owner, Dexter, who leads her to learn more then she ever imagined.
Anna’s story is interesting and well constructed. Because of her personality, she goes after very interesting pursuits and really opens up the female world of the 1930s/1940s for the reader. We get a glimpse of the factories and the women who put in long hours to contribute to the war. The disparity between the genders is prevalent even with so many of the men off fighting. Those who remain behind respond with wariness, condescension, and even anger when Anna dares to step outside the bounds of her place in the working world. I did really enjoy Egan’s exploration of women’s roles throughout this novel. I think she approaches the topic in an interesting and engaging way through her protagonist. Anna, despite her ambition, still comes up against road blocks at every angle. Her fight to succeed is not always successful and that makes her a very real character.
Now to the stuff that I didn’t enjoy so much. There was a lot that went on outside of Anna’s story, and that, I found, detracted from how interesting her chapters were. We also get to see the perspective of Dexter as well as the perspective of Anna’s father, Eddie. All of these stories tie together, however, their level of readability and interest is much decreased and sometimes makes it difficult to get through the story as a whole. These parts don’t often seem necessary and I don’t think that add real value to the story as a whole. I couldn’t bring myself to care about Dexter even in the slightest. I wanted to, but I didn’t find there to be anything alluring about his character and his story was slow and lacked much depth. Eddie’s tale contains a jump in time. He as well is quite the unredeemable character. He’s wily and right from the start, it’s clear that he’s heading on the path of danger. Both of their plot lines are a bit rambling and don’t have clear direction. It slowed me down as I read, and did make it hard to continue and return to the Anna bits.
Overall, it’s not a bad story. It has it’s really great moments and it is not without weaknesses. I didn’t mind it and I’m open to reading more of Egan’s work in the future.