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October 9, 2018

Manhattan Beach

by Anne Paddock

Seven years ago in 2011, Jennifer Egan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for A Visit From The Goon Squad  (Goon Squad) – a novel that wasn’t typical in its structure or story which left readers perplexed because aren’t novels supposed be about momentum and anticipation?

The Goon Squad was fragmented with a non-traditional timeline of events (i.e. chapters that were followed by events 20 years into the future or 6 years prior) so readers had to be alert and think to understand the relationship between characters and events. The story was brilliant but the structure was different so readers didn’t know what to expect with the author’s newest publication, Manhattan Beach, a historical novel set in New York during the Depression and World War II that is best described as traditional with each chapter building upon the previous chapter, not that Egan abandoned her tendency to use time as a tool to tell a story. But instead of using time to fragment a story, time is used to build momentum in Egan’s newest publication.

Manhattan Beach is the story of Anna Kerrigan, a young, brave, determined woman who comes of age in the mid-1940’s in New York City. During World War II, the Brooklyn Naval Yard was the central shipyard for the building and repair of ships and since so much of the war was about our naval strength, the shipyard was a large employer, particularly of women who stayed stateside, although most of the jobs were menial and repetitive, which didn’t sit well with the heroine in Manhattan Beach, Anna Kerrigan who wanted to be a diver and set out against heavy odds to be the first female diver in the shipyard. While Anna struggles to find her place in a male dominated field, she is also preoccupied with finding out what happened to her father, Eddie who disappeared five years prior.

Eddie Kerrigan, an Irish New Yorker doted on his daughters, and particularly Anna but found life difficult in the Depression so he did what he had to do to provide for his family, which involved working for Dexter Styles, a crime boss who oversaw night clubs, prostitution rings, card games, and other criminal activity in the city. Styles, a self-described “wop” married well and lives what appears to be the good life with his wife and three children in Manhattan Beach but all is not what it seems.

The link between Anna and her father is Dexter Styles. Manhattan Beach is really the story of these three characters. Written in the omniscience point of view, the reader is all-knowing while the characters struggle to understand the chain of events that connect them, which makes the book a deeply satisfying read.  Another brilliant novel by Jennifer Egan, yes but I couldn’t help thinking about what a great movie this book would make with Michael Stuhlberg (who played Arnold Rothstein in the crime drama series, Boardwalk Empire and also starred in the third season of Fargo) as Dexter Styles. As for who would play Anna Kerrigan and her father, Eddie, that’s a question worth thinking about.

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