Saturday, April 10, 2021

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

I remember liking A Visit From the Goon Squad both in terms of story and structure, but I don't remember the particulars well, but I'll be revisiting it later this year, I'm sure, after reading The Keep and Manhattan Beach, The latter two are as different from each other as from Goon Squad, and both great. I knew from a couple of online friends that this was crime adjacent, but, despite that heads up but I wasn't quite prepared for the genre shift. There are several writers I love that never do exactly the same thing twice. I'm thinking of Jeff Vandermeer and Jonathan Lethem in particular, (and Ishiguro in genre if not in mood) but I have to add Egan to that category.

This is a genre mashup of the highest order. It's a noirish gangster story. It's a life during wartime historical novel. It's almost, but not quite a romance. It's woman making her way through a male dominated world novel. It's an underwater adventure novel (briefly). And all of these are pulled off. 

The novel opens with Anna Kerrigan, then 12, visiting a gangster with her father. Her father is a go between for gangsters, politicians and union bosses. The exact nature of his involvement is initially unclear. The book jumps forward to Anna's late teens/early twenties, during WWII. Her father has disappeared years earlier. She was then working in a factory making battleship parts and longing to learn to dive. She runs into the gangster again. I won't give any other plot points, but the novel plays out perfectly. 

Overall this was a great historical novel that belongs on the same shelf at Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, Carter Beats the Devil or Underworld. 

Highly Recommended/Canon Worthy

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