Summary and book reviews of Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach

by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
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  • Published:
    Oct 2017, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

The long-awaited, daring, and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval 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 with the Ziegfeld Follies, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a nightclub, she chances to meet Dexter Styles again, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father's life, the reasons he might have vanished.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan's first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a spectacular novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.

PART TWO
Shadow World
CHAPTER FIVE

It all started with seeing the girl. Anna had gone outside to buy lunch over the disapproval of her supervisor, Mr. Voss, who liked them to bring their lunches from home and eat them on the same tall stools where they sat measuring all day. Anna sensed anxiety in his wish to keep them in sight, as if girls at large in the Naval Yard might scatter like chickens. True, their shop was pleasant to eat in, clean and brightly lit by a bank of second-story windows. It had conditioned air, a humming chill that had filled every corner during the hot September days when Anna first came to work there. Now she would have liked to open a window and let in the fresh October air, but the windows were permanently shut, sealing out dust and grime that might affect the measurements she and the other girls took—or was it that the tiny parts they were measuring needed to be pristine in order to function? No one knew, and Mr. Voss was not a man who welcomed ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the first chapter, on the beach, Anna walks barefoot despite the cold and says, "It only hurts at first. After a while you can't feel anything." Dexter admires Anna for her strength, which he senses comes from her father. He reflects that "men's children gave them away" (pages 8–9). How does this meeting between Dexter, Ed, and Anna set the tone for the rest of the novel?
  2. Why is the thought of what Lydia "might have looked like, had she not been damaged. A beauty. Possibly more than Agnes," (page 16) so painful to Ed? Why is he unable even to cope with Lydia, much less love her, as Anna and Agnes do?
  3. "Each time Anna moved from her father's world to her mother and Lydia's, she felt as if she'd shaken free ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. More straightforwardly narrated than some of Egan's earlier work, including the celebrated A Visit from the Goon Squad, the novel is tremendously assured and rich, moving from depictions of violence and crime to deep tenderness. The book's emotional power once again demonstrates Egan's extraordinary gifts.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Realistically detailed, poetically charged, and utterly satisfying: apparently there's nothing Egan can't do.

Booklist

Starred Review. Ultimately, Egan's propulsive, surprising, ravishing, and revelatory saga, a covertly profound page-turner that will transport and transform every reader, casts us all as divers in the deep, searching for answers, hope, and ascension.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This large, ambitious novel shows Egan at the top of her game. Anna is a true feminist heroine, and her grit and tenacity will make readers root for her. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb George Saunders, bestselling author of Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo
A bounteous miracle that makes you feel that past time, and our time, differently; everything becomes freshly energized, infused with humanity, vital, sad, and full of importance. To see the world through Egan’s eyes is to be moved, through language, to new adoration of the world. I don’t know a better writer working today. There is a generosity in her prose that is vastly enlivening to its reader and brings about that beautiful effect fiction sometimes causes: more, and better-grounded, fondness for reality, just as it is.

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Beyond the Book

New York City Women During World War II

In Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan has produced a closely researched exploration of life in New York City during World War II and describes a range of ways in which New York women became involved in the war effort.

Brooklyn Navy Yard
During the 1930s a small number of women worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, almost exclusively in administrative positions. But with America's entry into World War II, that changed radically. From August 1942 onward, women began working in trade jobs – shopfitting, driving, welding and operating elevators. The Yard, which had been in existence since 1806, expanded to 282 acres, cover approximately 0.4 square miles of land. Within its boundaries there were five miles of streets lined with warehouses, ...

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