Sunday, February 04, 2018
Posted by JaneGS
Until I read Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, I gave absolutely no thought to how ships, especially those engaged in WWII, were repaired. I suppose this is due to my living my entire life in landlocked Colorado and spending zero time with any proximity to a naval shipyard, but I found the subject utterly fascinating as recounted in Manhattan Beach.
Manhattan Beach not only provides an interesting look at how a young woman, Anna Kerrigan becomes a diver involved in ship repair in New York during WWII, but it also includes a creditable mystery that involves the disappearance of Anna's father, gangsters, politics, nightclubs, Ziegfield Follies show girls, and the rough and tumble life of the naval shipyard workers and its neighborhood.
However, the soul of the story is really that of the relationship between Anna and her severely disabled sister, a lovely girl named Lydia, who cannot speak or move, but who is cared for by both Anna and her mother with tenderness and a devotion that is heart-breaking. In a way, Lydia almost becomes for Anna what an imaginary friend is to some children--a confidant who doesn't pass judgement but who provides a focus and purpose whenever necessary.
I absolutely loved how Anna reinvented herself, which I think the vast disruption of the war made possible for so many people.
I also loved Anna's relationship to the ocean--her physical need to dive and immerse herself in another world, where she was lighter and stronger but completely vulnerable to the literal ties that bound her to the other world. In writing that, it occurs to me that her experience in diving metaphorically maps how she interacts with the other worlds she enters--the world of the gangsters and nightclubs and money laundering, the world of the mistress, the world of San Francisco where she starts over, but still tied to her family, however tenuous.
Manhattan Beach is on the Tournament of Books 2018 shortlist and one that I hope goes far. I'll be rooting for it.