So I wasn’t enthusiastic when Manhattan Beach started getting a lot of attention. But to my happy surprise, I enjoyed this one quite a bit.
It’s a historical novel, opening during the Depression in New York, and carrying into World War II (although it’s only tangentially about the war).
Anna Kerrigan is a young girl at the beginning, and she adores her father, Eddie. During the Depression, Eddie becomes a bagman for a local gangster, Dexter Styles. Anna doesn’t know this, of course, but there’s a close bond between Anna and her father and she’s exposed to the world of nightclubs and sketchy dealings.
The book jumps several years and Eddie has disappeared. To help support her mother and invalid sister, Lydia, Anna begins working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, joining the war effort. She develops a dream of becoming a diver, working on repairs underwater at the shipyard. And her life crosses paths again with Dexter Styles when she visits one of his nightclubs with friends.
The novel has some elements of mystery to it (the fate of her father), but it doesn’t feel as much like a mystery as it does an exploration of Anna’s struggle to understand her past and her own identity at a time when women weren’t allowed to have an identity outside of their roles in relation to men.
My only qualm with the novel is the vast cast of characters that don’t really develop. I found it a challenge to remember who many of them were and what their link was to Eddie, Anna, and Dexter. But for the most part, I enjoyed Manhattan Beach and would likely be interested to read more from Egan in the future.