First, an admission of possible bias!! I love Jennifer Egan. ‘A visit from the Goon Squad” is one of my favourite books of all time. So while a Depression-era tale would not be one I’d usually choose, I couldn’t resist Egan’s name the moment I saw it!
Manhattan Beach follows the story of Anna Kerrigan, age 12. The novel begins with a visit to a man named Dexter Styles, and Anna accompanies her father to see this man. She immediately knows Dexter Styles is important even at her young age. He acts as a catalyst for events she won’t be aware of, or understand until she is much older.
The story follows Anna as she grows, and as she works in a Naval Yard in the midst of the war. Her father’s disappearance years earlier hangs in the back of her mind. But, a chance encounter with Dexter Styles sets events in motion that will change her life forever.
Egan’s writing style in this novel is impeccable as ever. She holds such a command of language that it truly feels as though you are immersed in the story with no distraction. The story itself was both thrilling and mesmerising all at once.
It’s fitting that the novel regularly references the Ocean, as it truly felt at times like I was adrift at sea watching events unfold – the slow and regular lap of waves in time with the steady rhythm of the story.
A particular section stuck with me.
“…something once solid inside her became terribly fragile: a clock made from sugar…She declined with a merciless speed that seemed retroactive, as if the clock had already crumbled long before…”
Egan has a knack for writing in a way that can simultaneously make me feel uneasy and giddy, but this turn of phrase really stayed with me. I had to pause for some time to digest it. The imagery she manages to create perfectly manufactures what she needs you to feel for the story to progress.
A gorgeous illustration by Jill Putorti inside the hardback cover.
Now, I must say, the book is excellent but I struggled with some of the terminologies. A lot of it I could gain from context, but certain words that were specific to that time period (and would probably be considered extremely offensive now) were completely new to me. This did interrupt the flow of reading a little, which is not the experience I’ve become accustomed to with Egan’s work. This was a mere momentary blip, though.
Overall Manhattan Beach was a thrilling read. I would recommend it whether you’re a fan of Egan’s work or not. I look forward to her next novel eagerly!
You can buy Manhattan Beach here
And follow Jennifer Egan here