GBC rating: 4/5*
As soon as I began reading Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, I was immediately reminded of Egan’s talent for seamlessly changing storylines and interweaving characters. While the focal point of the book does not shift from chapter to chapter (as in Egan’s Pulitzer-Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad), the novel is divided into parts that capture various characters at different points in their lives. The structure of the novel led to confusion at times, but as in Goon Squad, readers were rewarded with a cohesive and pleasantly unpredictable conclusion.
The brave and ambitious Anna Kerrigan is the novel’s central character. The book begins with Anna as a young girl, accompanying her father on a business errand. Specifically, Anna and her father visit the home of the notoriously wealthy Dexter Styles. Given that this visit takes place during the depression, Anna is bewildered by the opulence of the Styles’ family home. Later in life, Anna and Dexter’s paths cross again, and Anna is left wondering about the significance of this man her father once knew. Like Anna, the reader is left to wonder about the elusive Mr. Styles.
Peppered into this plotline is Anna’s evolution of work at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where she finds employment that is only available to her because so many men are serving abroad. Though Anna begins with tedious work, she quickly becomes interested in diving. My favourite part of the book takes place when Anna tries on the diving gear for the first time because it cannot help but feel symbolic of the weight that this character (and surely many women of her time) would have carried.
If you are a reader who is motivated to get to the bottom of character connections, this is the perfect book for you. The plot’s driving force comes from the mysterious connection between Anna Kerrigan, her father, and Dexter Styles. There were certain aspects of the book that were less interesting to me, such as the details of Styles’ wartime gangster activity. However, the conclusion of this book made the book well worth the read and one that I would recommend.