BookBrowse Reviews Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Manhattan Beach

by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan X
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 448 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Jennifer Egan's first historical novel has a wealth of detail about organized crime, naval operations and the role of women of New York during World War II.

Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, has turned her writer's eye toward historical fiction with Manhattan Beach, primarily set in New York during World War II.

The story concerns Anna Kerrigan, daughter of Eddie, an Irish bagman receiving and delivering bribes for a corrupt union official. Eddie has reluctantly embraced the underworld in order to provide for his wife Agnes, and their daughters Anna and Lydia, who is crippled. The novel opens with Anna, then aged 12, accompanying her father to visit nightclub owner Dexter Styles at his home on Manhattan Beach. Egan then moves forward several years and the family situation is much changed. Anna has left college and is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard (see Beyond the Book), aspiring to be a diver who repairs ships, and Eddie has disappeared. When the adult Anna crosses paths with Dexter Styles, the chance to find out what happened to her father is too much to resist — but her entanglement with Styles will have far-reaching consequences for them both.

Rich in period detail and information, Manhattan Beach explores themes of personal responsibility, family, social structures and public service. Anna is a ground-breaker, physically strong and emotionally resilient, intent on her dream. Other women in the novel are less developed and border on stereotypes. Anna's mother, dutiful Agnes, has given up a dancing career with the Ziegfeld Follies, a Broadway theater company, to care for Lydia, a sharp contrast to Dexter's society wife and her siblings. There are Anna's friends – Rose, traditional and respectable but dull; very different from Nell, who claims to be happy as a mistress to a married man she does not even seem to like. Only Anna's aunt, Brianne, might surprise the reader in her evolution and contribution to Anna's story.

Egan's male characters are more varied and complex – violent yet capable of great moments of tenderness. Crime is an important part of Manhattan Beach, and there are fascinating parallels between the legitimate business world embodied by Dexter Styles' banker father-in-law, and Styles' underworld boss, a man known only as Mr Q. Both Dexter and Anna's father, Eddie, struggle with the conflict between the private benefits they experience from their criminal enterprises and a desire to contribute to the war effort that is going on around them. As younger men go off to fight and women join the workforce at home, Dexter and Eddie's attempts to do the right thing take them in very different directions.

At times the depth of research assembled in Manhattan Beach threatens to overwhelm the narrative. Dense passages devoted to naval maneuvers, war action and diving technique and safety, although interesting and beautifully written, slow the action. Anna's character and story, however, are compelling and thought-provoking. Egan is highly successful at bringing her to life and her choices and decisions keep the pages turning.

Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2017, and has been updated for the June 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Klara and the Sun
    Klara and the Sun
    by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Klara and the Sun by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro drops the reader into a fictional ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Apothecary
    The Lost Apothecary
    by Sarah Penner
    Sarah Penner's debut novel The Lost Apothecary was rated 4 or 5 stars by 22 of our 23 First ...
  • Book Jacket: The Spymaster of Baghdad
    The Spymaster of Baghdad
    by Margaret Coker
    For the last 17 years, the country of Iraq has known almost constant violence and political upheaval...
  • Book Jacket: Hades, Argentina
    Hades, Argentina
    by Daniel Loedel
    Daniel Loedel's debut novel, Hades, Argentina, opens in 1986 when we meet Tomás Orillo, a young...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost Apothecary
    by Sarah Penner

    A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    Smalltime
    by Russell Shorto

    Family secrets emerge as a best-selling author dives into the history of the mob in small-town America.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Narrowboat Summer
by Anne Youngson
From the author of Meet Me at the Museum, a charming novel of second chances.
Win This Book!
Win Band of Sisters

Band of Sisters
by Lauren Willig

"A crackling portrayal of everyday American heroines…A triumph."
— Fiona Davis

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W T's Life T's H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.