Saturday, June 16, 2018

*Review* Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: October 3, 2017
Pages: 448

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. I did so at 1.5 speed and had no issue with that feeling too fast. It's been a few months since I finished this book (about six if we're being completely honest here) so I don't remember exactly what I thought of the narration, but it must not have been too bad at the very least, because I would have remembered that. That means that the opposite gendered voices didn't come off as absurd caricatures to my ears at the very least. 

I "read" this book for my book club back in Germany, but we never got around to discussing it. That was pretty much okay with me though, because I'm really not sure what we would have really discussed aside from gender roles in the '40s or something. I suppose it's possible that some of the other ladies in my book club may have come up with more to talk about, but to my mind, this is not an obvious book club pick. 

I did find Anna's perseverance in getting a job as a diver to be quite inspiring. She fought hard to even be given the chance to try out for the position and continued to fight hard even after she got it, because she had to (women's roles in the '40s mind you). And then the intrigue surrounding her father's activities and exactly what happened to him when she was a child had me a little bit interested as well. 

Overall, I give Manhattan Beach 3.9758 stars. - Katie 

Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago, where her paternal grandfather was a police commander and bodyguard for President Truman during his visits to that city. She was raised in San Francisco and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and St. John’s College, Cambridge, in England. In those student years she did a lot of traveling, often with a backpack: China, the former USSR, Japan, much of Europe, and those travels became the basis for her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and her story collection, Emerald City. She came to New York in 1987 and worked an array of wacky jobs while learning to write: catering at the World Trade Center; joining the word processing pool at a midtown law firm; serving as the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones, an OSS spy-turned-Spanish countess (by marriage), who wrote a series of bestsellers about her spying experiences and famous friends.

Egan has published short stories in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta and McSweeney's. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, came out in 1995 and was released as a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Her second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2001, and her third, The Keep, was a national bestseller. Also a journalist, Egan has written many cover stories for the New York Times Magazine on topics ranging from young fashion models to the secret online lives of closeted gay teens. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.


  1. Haha, I love your star rating. It’s very specific. I taught a class on one of Egan’s other books, and teaching the book quickly made me hate it. I’m not sure if I want to read more Egan books, or if they’re tainted for me now.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Thanks! A while back there as a confession on IABB with an author complaining about half star reviews on blogs and such, and because I'm petty and the confession was/is anonymous, I decided to never review a book with whole stars after that (The essential rating is whatever whole number my decimal rounds to).

      This is my first Egan book, and while I wouldn't necessarily avoid others, I'm also not dying to buy them all either. So I may or may not read any other books by her. I can imagine getting sick and tired of a book after teaching about it.

      Thanks for stopping by. - Katie