Monday, April 22, 2019
Read by: Leo Butz, Heather Lind, and Vincent Piazza
Published October 2017 by Scribner
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
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 father and 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, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes 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.
Manhattan Beach is as traditional as Egan's 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit From The Goon Squad was inventive, a work of historical fiction that follows the lives of three characters that we meet in the first chapter before we leap forward ten years. For people who waited six years for Egan's next book to be published, expecting something as inventive as Goon Squad, this could have been disappointing. For some, I suppose, it was. But Egan is such a great writer and the three different character's lives are so interesting, that I don't suspect that was the case for most people. It certainly wasn't for the many reviewers who put it on their best-of lists in 2017. It certainly wasn't for me.
This is the story of three people's fates and the way they are wound together. It's the story about the people with whom they surround themselves. Mostly, it is about the way their work lives shape their lives; Egan spends most of the book watching these characters with their very unusual jobs at a very unusual time in our history. A book about the working lives of three people sound dull? It's not. Not when you consider that Dexter is a mob guy married to the daughter of one of the richest men in America. Not when you consider that Eddie is a bag man for the mob who struggles with the fact that he can't stand to be around his youngest daughter who handicapped while at the same time he is trying to do right by her. Most especially when you consider that Anna is a woman who finds herself able to work in a field that would never have been available to her if not for war.
Egan is more than adept at giving readers just as much detail as they need to have to understand historical context or how things work but she never strays into including every detail she learned about it, something so many writers are guilty of doing. I understood how heavy and awkward the diving gear Anna had to wear was, how tough it was to work in it, and how dangerous but Egan only gives readers what they need to understand how desperate Anna was to escape the life in which she had found herself.
Here's the thing, though. As much as I enjoyed this book as I was reading it (and I enjoyed it a lot), while details of the book have stayed with me, my feelings about this book have gotten a little murky. I'm wishing I would have put in words what I was feeling about the book just as I finished it. As it stands now, I'm not sure it will find its way to my favorite books of the year list. It might have two weeks ago.