Manhattan Beach is a book I was eager to read because I have loved other books by Jennifer Egan. While reading, though, I was not eager to finish. I wanted to stay in the world Egan created, with these characters I came to love.
Manhattan Beach is a historical novel that tells the story of Anna, a young woman who works at a naval yard during World War II with a fierce determination to be a professional diver. It is also the story of her father, Eddie, a man who seeks out opportunities on the edges of organized crime to do work that is more or less legal and Dexter Styles the quasi-legit gangster he works for. But this is not a story about organized crime.
I was about halfway through the book when I realized I had no idea where the story was going to go. What could be more exhilarating? That is the kind of book this is. It just tells a story. It’s not a mystery, not a romance, not a war story, not a family saga, not a coming-of-age story, but it also all of that.
I loved Manhattan Beach. Egan has this languid approach to writing – even though the story is full of action and excitement – that is so immersive. Reading her books is kind of like donning one of those diving dresses and submerging in this other world where everything else disappears. I almost think if she wrote a book about polar exploration or living on the frigid Mongolian steppes, people without air conditioners could read it during the dog days of summer and find relief from the heat. That is the kind of way she makes the world fall away while you read.
I love Egan’s use of language, the “arachnid appetite of the IRS” instilling fears in gangsters, the male genitalia reminding Anna of two shoes hung over a pole, memories brushing against you like a cat. Her language is alive and fresh in ways that made me stop and savor, saying the sentences out loud. And this is why I knew even before I read the first sentence, why I was eager to read this book, Egan spins a magical story that grabs on and makes you hope will never let go.
I received an e-galley from the publisher of Manhattan Beach through NetGalley.