Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men. Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in American history from one of the great writers of our time.
About the author
Jennifer Egan is the author of five previous books of fiction; A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Keep; the story collection Emerald City; Look at Me, a National Book Award finalist; and The Invisible Circus. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Granta, McSweeney’s, and The New York Times Magazine.
This novel begins in the depression era and carries on through the impact of war on women while men are away, class struggle, crime, loss, tragedy and the relationship between fathers and daughters. We meet Anna Kerrigan at twelve when she and her father leave their apartment in Brooklyn for an opulent Manhattan Beach home of a night club owner with ties to the mob, so that her father can better his station in life. Even at this tender age Anna senses that the relationship her father has with this man has everything to do with the success of his career. The story has many themes, but what I liked best was at its notion of work and what employment or unemployment does to each character. Anna’s father begins as a foot soldier for a crooked union, moves on to a mob foot soldier and then to the merchant marines – essentially a sea soldier for the war effort. Anna’s mother quits her successful career in entertainment to raise children; Anna’s aunt struggles throughout the entire novel making ends meet as a dancer. Anna herself struggles at two different war-time jobs at the Brooklyn Navy Shipyard, the first in a nearly all female workforce and the second all male. The celebration and joy of work is observed through its symptoms of inequality, abuse and misery while in and out of employment.
Set in the Brooklyn dockyards of World War ll, Egan portrays a host of interconnected characters coping on the home front. Women are working at what were once men’s jobs, fathers disappear, unlikely romances transpire, and everyone is harbouring a secret. From old moneyed families to blue collar workers and immigrants – everyone has a story and all are vivid and captivating. The American wartime experience is brought vividly to life.