I confess that I never read the Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad by Egan. Its desription as a novel of interlocking stories just didn’t appeal so I came to this book with an open mind. It has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, was a New York Times and Washington Post Notable book and it made many of the best books lists in 2017. So I had high expectations, and it mostly met them.
Manhattan Beach is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and this book is a historical look at the area. Anna Kerrigan is a young girl when her father takes to a business meeting at the home of Dexter Styles, who lives in a large house on the beach. Anna is mesmerized by the sand and sea, and Styles enjoys her pleasure in it.
Anna’s father had been ruined in the Great Depression, and the family lives in a small apartment. Anna enjoys spending time with her father, but he stops taking her to business meetings and then disappears a short time later, leaving her with her mother and sister. Her sister suffers from some sort of paralysis and brain damage, but Anna and her mother lovingly take care of her.
Years later, Anna gets a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during the war, when women are allowed to hold the jobs that only men once held. She sees men diving in the water off the yard and wants to learn to do that, but that is one line women cannot cross. Nonetheless, her boss gets her an interview but the man in charge is more interested in humiliating Anna than hiring her. Much to his surprise, she passes the tests for divers but he still doesn’t want her. She persists, and eventually becomes the first woman diver, repairing ships to help win the war.
Anna’s personal life is a bit of a mess. She lives with a friend’s family, and rarely dates. But one night she goes to a nightclub and finds out that Dexter Styles is the owner. He becomes intrigued with her and their relationship turns the story on its head.
This is a fascinating look at the roles of women during the Depression and the war, and the lives of sailors, politicians, and gangsters and how their lives intertwine. Anna is a terrific character and moves the story along. A very interesting and enjoyable read, especially for book groups.
4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan. Scribner; First Edition edition (October 3, 2017). ISBN 978-1476716732. 448p.