Mimi Jones Hedwig

Writer, Editor, Animal Advocate

Book review blog

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

Posted by mhedwig on November 15, 2017 at 2:25 PM

I came away from Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach respecting the author's diligent research into women divers during WW II and what it's like to survive at sea after a shipwreck, and I always find much to admire in Egan's writing. But the book's plot lines--the stories of the 3 major characters and how they intertwine over decades --did not cohere for me into a satisfying whole.

None of the characters came fully to life. They all seemed like vehicles to show the various aspects of the world of NYC in the 40s: organized crime, the controlling secret elite of the bankers, the Irish immigrant experience, the opportunities for women to take on men's work in the absence of men at war but the harsh limitations placed on women's ambitions and advancement. The relationships among the 3 principals --especially between Anna and her gangster-lover Styles--were not compelling or entirely credible.

I found the novel something of a research dump. And was consistently annoyed by author's attempt to render the speech of the time by stilted use of the verb "to have": Highlighted in my Kindle are examples on nearly every page: "Had he children?" "We haven't a telephone." "Why has he a diving suit on?" "You went ashore whenever you'd the chance?" "You've people who can do just about anything, haven't you?" "He'd a quick, knifelike walk..." "We've girls galore around here." Etc etc. Truly, did Americans ever talk like that? 

Overall, for me this book seemed like a a slow and clumsy vessel that labors under its own weight. 

Categories: Fiction