Sunday, February 04, 2018

Manhattan Beach

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.


  1. Ship repair is an esoteric subject, but it sounds very interesting. This book sounds as if it has several unusual and creative elements to its plot. The use is diving as a metaphor sounds really neat.

  2. This does sound fascinating! I know women worked in shipyards, but I had no idea about this kind of work. I hadn't heard of this book before, but I'm putting it on my library list.

  3. Very good review and I particularly like your analogy about what diving and the ocean mean to Anna. It gives her a sense of freedom but the ship also represents that she has ties to her family and must return back hone. As I recall I think Jennifer Egan wrote a book years ago called The Invisible Circus which was also about sisters.

  4. Great review! I agree with Kathy that the idea of diving as a metaphor for Anna's life is really spot on.

    I think I liked this book a little less than you did. I thought Egan's writing was fantastic, but there was too much story crammed in the 400+ pages for my taste. But I would definitely read Egan again (and I have previously read and liked her Pulitzer winning Welcome to the Good Squad).

    I can't see this one winning the TOB but I think it has a good chance of at least winning its first bracket.

  5. I love coming across a book that offers up a new facet of WWII. And Anna sounds like a great character!

  6. Oh great review! So glad you liked this one. I still have it on my list at the library as it sounds really neat especially the diving parts. Looking forward to it.

  7. As a historical novel, I thought this was great - I learned a lot about ships and diving during world war II, and the gangster life as well. However, she lost me a bit towards the ending. I liked Anna a lot as a character but the latter part of the book left me unmoved.