Wednesday, February 7, 2018

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

Anna Kerrigan is eleven years old in the 1930s when the novel opens.  She is her father’s favorite companion on work-related errands, including one visit to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles.  Then her father suddenly disappears.  The fact that Anna’s mother never contacted the police tells me that she knew that her husband was involved in some shady dealings.   We later learn that he was a small-time bagman and that Dexter Styles is a fairly important underworld figure.    Some ten years later, WWII is underway, and Anna has a mind-numbing job measuring nautical parts.  We are not aware that Anna is the least bit aquatic until she becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a diver in the Naval Yard.  This choice of a profession seemed particularly odd to me, especially when it becomes supremely helpful in her search for her still-missing father.  For me, this was a rather absurd coincidence.  I love Egan’s writing, though, and my complaints about the plot are relatively few.  There is another point late in the novel where Anna suddenly reverses a decision, and I found the whole scene a little too predictable and unoriginal.  As for the characters, Dexter Styles drew me in more than any other, including Anna.  He is very charismatic in a dangerous sort of way.  Anna, on the other hand, is a little hard to pin down as far as her values, her appearance, and her personality.  She’s strong in every way but not necessarily relatable.  Still, overall, I liked this book, though not as much as I liked A Visit from the Goon Squad.

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