Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Published by: Scribner
Genres: Literary Fiction
The book is essentially about a father-daughter relationship during war time. At the start of the novel, the Kerrigans are struggling to purchase a wheelchair for their youngest daughter, Lydia. In hopes of receiving financial assistance, Ed Kerrigan takes the older daughter, Anna, to go to visit Dexter Styles, a gangster. Years later, Ed mysteriously disappears and it’s WWII. Anna overcomes discrimination and becomes the first female diver. One day, she runs into Dexter Styles at one of his nightclubs. This is where the majority of the plot picks up. The rest of the book focuses on Anna’s attempt to uncover “what happen?” The narrative intermixes Ed, Anna, and Dexter’s point of views.
This weaving of perspectives wasn’t as fluid as what I expected from Egan. Relationships between some characters formed unnaturally, seeming to purely to further the plot. I couldn’t understand the psychology behind the character’s decisions and much of the novel reminded me of an old Hollywood movie rather than an original work of literary fiction.
The novel tried to depict marginalized people (women and African-Americans) in a favorable light. For instance, Egan critiques a few characters’ overt sexist and racist comments and Anna was a very strong female character — a true heroine. However, Egan wasn’t as successful with her other characters. Anna is the exception who conquers social barriers. In this way, Egan fails to advocate for women’s and POC’s rights to have independent and fulfilling careers/lives.
My favorite aspect of the novel was Egan’s elegant descriptions of the ocean–she definitely channeled her inner Melville (his quote is the epigraph after all). Unfortunately, I didn’t think this book was worth the hype but the read was enjoyable.
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