Manhattan Beach: A Novel by Jennifer Egan

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The day with Tabatha and Mr. Styles became like one of those dreams that shreds and vanishes even as you try to gather it up.

The setting during the Great Depression, New York is initially the reason I wanted to read this novel. I think I was waiting for more excitement, because with everything happening during that time period a writer could do a lot with it. It seems for me it just fell flat at times. Anna’s diving experience was interesting but I had a hard time really falling for Anna as a character. Lydia, I have mixed feelings here because she sort of felt like a non-entity, I wanted her story to develop more. There was beauty in the love Anna and her mother felt for her, the care they gave her but I wondered why she left us so soon. In a time when ‘men ran the world’ certainly Anna comes into her own, shows strength and bravery. Historical fiction can be extremely difficult to tackle, particularly when you touch on gangsters. There are fantastic novels about organized crime so if you’re going to take that on, you have to know expectations will be high. Eddie’s story is important, and why he was involved in the criminal world matters but here I go complaining again- Lydia could have been such a solid driving force had she remained in the story. However, I did enjoy that she ‘comes’ to Anna during a big life decision. I think that is a beautiful moment.

I was hooked at first, Chapter One as Anna and her father Eddie are driving to Mr. Stlyes’s house stirred me. The comparison between his pampered child and the Flossie Flirt doll that Anna remembers wanting ‘violently’ beautifully shows the difference between their worlds, it also introduces the child that is still alive inside Anna as she is maturing into a young lady. Anna on the shore, wanting to feel the cold, a instinctual wildness, the strength in her had me thinking with the power of the ocean, her hunger for it is a great way to introduce a free spirit, someone that will not be tamed by her times. Then through the novel I thought ‘is this going for romance?’ because with Dexter it could have gone so much darker, richer. I am not sure if maybe there was too much so that nothing specific (aside from the Diving) was explored better or what? I felt confused, sort of thrown off the plot. I felt the beginning was such a strong start but then it veered off in too many directions and nowhere I wanted it to go.  I don’t know if there was a fog of mystery for me that I cared enough about. I had to put the novel down for days at a time.

Eddie is a damaged but well written character, desperate to see his disabled daughter get the chair she needs but then, he makes terrible choices, he vanishes- I wonder what a different sort of novel it would be if he had stuck around with trouble on his heels. I think more than anything I am just left confused. The ending isn’t what I expected, it leaves me scratching my head. I don’t feel anything big happened, aside from Anna and her diving, the sexism, that women in the end run her world more than any man- but other than that I am not sure what I am taking from this. It isn’t that the writing is bad, it’s just the story drifts off all over the place so that I couldn’t invest in any character with my entire heart.

It may just be that I am not the right fit. Egan can certainly write, but I think the story just isn’t for me.

Publication Date: October 3, 2017






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