Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 4 Stars ****

It’s such a pleasure to read a book written on an adult level with sophisticated vocabulary, complex ideas, and memorable phrases. I loved it and was captivated by the story and the writing.

The book starts out in the 1930’s with eleven year old Anna Kerrigan who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York with her mother, father, and developmentally and physically disabled sister, Lydia.  Anna’s mother is obsessed with caring for Lydia. Anna and her father, Eddie have an unusually strong bond, so much so that he often brings his daughter with him when he acts as a bagman for local gangsters and dock and union workers.

He teaches her to be strong, to hide the truth, and keep her mouth shut. Anna brings these qualities into adulthood as she works for a defense plant during WWII. She decides she wants to become the first woman diver to aid the war effort despite the push-back she encounters during training and missions. She excels and becomes well-respected. Anna lives independently and with purpose but the reader is not privy to Anna’s heart and head to really understand how she comes to choose this job over others that might be equally as helpful to society and challenging.

It’s hard not to do Spoiler Alerts when discussing the plot. Let’s just say there are many twists and turns in the story, but yet they are expected. The story is told by a narrator but the action alternates with Anna, her father, and gentleman gangster Dexter Stiles. Lots of back stories on these three. Why? Maybe the author is trying to highlight the complexity of character and how even “bad” people have redeeming qualities in parts of their lives and are capable of great intelligence in specific areas? Maybe a little too much?

The reader sees a lot of street smarts and heroism on the part of characters whose lives are less than admirable. Too much tell and not enough show. I believe the author could have devoted the time to developing Anna’s character with transitions, conversations and diary entries rather than using the narrator to fill in motivations for decisions rather than filling the pages with extraneous details about lesser characters.

The ending? Not really a surprise, but then again….I wanted to hear Eddie’s rationale about some poor choices he made. Why did Dexter Stiles make a sloppy decision that endangered his position? If the author did not want to complete these characterizations, she should not have included the events that led to these questions.

There are also some unrealistic events.  For example, Eddie’s escape, Anna’s strength despite weighing a little over one hundred pounds, Lydia being carried up and down six flights of stairs by one person, near drowning victims not struggling while being saved by Eddie who is not a large man but still demonstrates the strength of a superhero.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

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