On my recent trip to New York City, I went on a bookstore spree. One of my favorites, and the one with the most personal feel, was Astoria Bookshop. It was there that I picked up a signed copy of Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. I didn’t go there for this specific book. I had heard of Manhattan Beach because it had some buzz around it, and it was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction. The reasons I bought it were that it was signed (despite not really knowing the author’s work) and I wanted to support the bookshop. As luck would have it, I also ended up loving the novel.
Manhattan Beach is a novel about life in New York around the time of WWII. The primary character is Anna Kerrigan, a girl who loves her father, her disabled sister, her mother, her eccentric aunt, and loves a little bit of adventure. The novel begins when Anna is a child. She follows her father around when he does business dealings, but she is too young to understand what his job exactly is. When he suddenly goes missing, Anna is heartbroken. She tries to forget all about her father, and for a few years, she is able to move on. Once Anna enters the workforce, she meets one of her father’s old associates, a gangster by the name of Dexter Styles. As Anna gets closer to Mr. Styles, she finds out many of her father’s secrets.
My advice for going into this novel is to know that it isn’t all about Anna. The narration is third-person, but often the focus skips to one character or another. Sometimes the narration seems omniscient. The plot is much bigger than Anna’s own life. Dexter clearly his own complicated affairs, and there’s a lot about Anna’s sister and how her disability affects everyone else. The novel touches on sexism during the time period and how race and disability were viewed. There is a lot covered in the novel, and sometimes, it felt a touch messy. The time period and setting feel honest and accurate though. The author mentions the extensive research she did during the writing process, but I am no expert myself. It feels very New York, and it feels very WWII-America. It is a slow read. It is very character-focused, but it was the perfect book for my mood when I read it. A very solid 4.5/5 stars from me.