I received a copy of this from the publishers via NetGalley.
I am embarrassed to say that Manhattan Beach is my first Jennifer Egan. A Visit From the Goon Squad has been on my TBR pile for too long. All I can say is that having read Manhattan Beach I will definitely be moving Goon Squad to the top of the pile.
Manhattan Beach begins in Depression era New York when eleven year old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her Irish American father to the lavish home of nightclub owner, Dexter Styles. Eddie Kerrigan, is looking for work with Styles who also has ties to the Mob. A few years later we learn that Eddie has diasppaeared, leaving Anna to support her mother and disabled sister Lydia. The novel then shifts between the storylines of Eddie, Dexter and Anna as we follow their lives and unravel the mystery of what happened to Eddie.
I completely loved this book. It was a lovely, cosy, October read. Egan’s writing of the ports and sea are tremendously evocative and for me it was a perfect book for when the nights are drawing in. This is a novel of greys, blues, nightclubs, ship building, all tied up in beautiful and unpretentious writing. Depression era America is a time in history that I haven’t read much about and I thought it was really well researched and so vividly told I can see it transferring well to film.
It has been a while that I have enjoyed reading all the characters in a book. I seem to have gone through a spate of reading books with characters that annoyed me or that I didn’t feel anything for. Not so Manhattan Beach. All the characters were so vivid and well written. I was worried the concept of ‘gangster’ Dexter Styles could be a bit 2dimensional but I really enjoyed his chapters. I would actually say that it is a talent of Egan to make even the most unlikeable characters seem in some way likeable and I did end up having sympathy with Styles and Kerrigan. Anna is a great character. A female role-model if you will. Plucky, independent, intelligent and ambitious. Her ambition to become a deep sea diver in a male dominated world was so refreshing. She does not let Lieutenant Axel’s incredulity put her off:
“If you don’t mind me asking, Miss Kerrigan, whose idea was this?”
“Mine,” she said. “Entirely mine.”
“Entirely yours. But entirely your idea didn’t get the commandant to telephone me yesterday and ask me to see you.”
“My supervisor, Mr. Voss-.”
“Ah. Your supervisor. Mr…Voss.” He drew out the name as though its syllables were the last bits of meat he was sucking from a bone. Then he grinned. “I imagine he’s just as eager to please you as your are to please him.”
The mockery blindsided Anna, but the crude power of the insult expressed itself more slowly, like a burn. It made the Lieutenant seem unhinged. She noticed an unnatural hush quivering around them in the small building, and wondered if he was performing for a hidden audience.
Coldly, she said, “Is there a test you give people to see if they can dive.”
I also found her relationship with her sister incredibly moving and on two occasions it actually brought a tear to my eye! Anna’s determination to take Lydia to see the sea is beautiful. Even brazenly asking Dexter to drive them to the beach.
This was a brilliant read, unpretentious, evocative and with great characters.
My thanks to the publisher.