I haven't been doing much reading lately, since this wintry weather really lends itself to Netflix and Amazon Prime. That being said, I did just finish Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach.
You likely remember her last novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad (you can revisit my review here), which came out in 2011. The book won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Her latest work introduces us to a father and daughter, Eddie and Anna Kerrigan, living in New York City during World War II. When we first meet the duo, Anna is just about 10 years old. She tags along with her dad as he meets his business associates, playing with their children while the adults talk shop. It doesn't take young Anna long to realize her father is making deals with some pretty unsavory characters.
The story is narrated by both Eddie and Anna, bouncing back and forth between their two perspectives. We follow their story for over 10 years, as Anna grows into an independent woman and Eddie disappears (more on that in a minute). It was fascinating to read about a particular event or period of time, then gain even more insight as you heard it again from the alternate point of view.
The book goes deep on life in New York in the 1940s, particularly at the Naval Yard, where Anna works. She becomes a diver, something I now know more about than I ever thought I would. For me, the story went way too into the minutiae of Anna's day-to-day tasks, to the point where I found myself skimming pages (which I never do).
Despite the diving / Naval Yard rabbit hole, Jennifer Egan really is gifted. Some people read for an escape or to become enthralled in a story, I read to become a better writer. Egan most definitely inspired me with her descriptive prose. Here is just one example, where we learn about Eddie and his mistress:
"At Playland, Eddie and the little boys had ridden potato sacks down long wooden slides, getting friction burns where a knee or an elbow dragged against the wood. The fun-house floor was pocked with holes through which loud blasts of air (fired by some hidden wiseacre) were meant to lift girls' skirts. Ingrid had a horror of these blasts, and she clung to Eddie, laughing.
As they rode the streetcar back, Eddie had placed a hand on each boy's chest to steady them. He'd been startled by the sensation of their hearts scrambling like mice against his fingertips.
They were still there, Ingrid and her boys. They were thinking of him - waiting for him. Edie felt this truth in his body like a layer of earth turning over. It was all still there, everything he'd left behind. Its vanishing had been only a trick."
I re-read this phrase multiple times, "their hearts scrambling like mice against his fingertips." So vivid!
It pains me to say this, but unless you are particularly interested in Naval Yard life during World War II in New York, I would skip this book. While the writing is beautiful, it can't make up for the slow pace.
Have you read anything great lately? I'm always look for new books.
*Image courtesy of Brooklyn Historical Society.
Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:15
I just read that book a couple of weeks ago and I felt the same way. Disappointing, since I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Thu, 01/18/2018 - 16:20
I am so relieved to hear I am not the only one who felt that way! She is such a beautiful writer, but this one just bored me to tears.
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