LONGLISTED for the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.
“Immensely satisfying...an old-fashioned page-turner, tweaked by this witty and sophisticated writer...Egan is masterly at displaying mastery...she works a formidable kind of magic.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Dares to satisfy us in a way that stories of an earlier age used to.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Egan’s prose is transparent and elegant...But the chief joy of reading Manhattan Beach lies in diving under the surface pleasures of the plot (which are plentiful—it’s immersive and compelling), and sinking slowly to its dark and unknowable depths. There are deep truths there.” —Vox
“Excellent...Manhattan Beach is a fleet, sinuous epic, abounding with evocative details and felicitous metaphors...[it] magnificently captures the country on the brink of triumph and triumphalism.” —Bookforum
“Egan’s first foray into historical fiction makes you forget you’re reading historical fiction at all.” —Elle
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.
Jennifer Egan is the author of five previous books of fiction: A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Keep; the story collection Emerald City; Look at Me, a National Book Award Finalist; and The Invisible Circus. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Granta, McSweeney's, and The New York Times Magazine.
It all started with seeing the girl. Anna had gone outside to buy lunch over the disapproval of her supervisor, Mr. Voss, who liked them to bring their lunches from home and eat them on the same tall stools where they sat measuring all day. Anna sensed anxiety in his wish to keep them in sight, as if girls at large in the Naval Yard might scatter like chickens. True, their shop was pleasant to eat in, clean and brightly lit by a bank of second-story windows. It had conditioned air, a humming chill that had filled every corner during the hot September days when Anna first came to work there. Now she would have liked to open a window and let in the fresh October air, but the windows were permanently shut, sealing out dust and grime that might affect the measurements she and the other girls took—or was it that the tiny parts they were measuring needed to be pristine in order to function? No one knew, and Mr. Voss was not a man who welcomed questions. Early on, Anna had asked of the unrecognizable parts in her tray, “What are we measuring, exactly, and which ship are they for?”
Mr. Voss’s pale eyebrows rose. “That information isn’t necessary to do your job, Miss Kerrigan.”
“It would help me to do it better.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“I would know what I was doing.”
The marrieds hid their smiles. Anna had been cast—or cast herself—in the role of unruly kid sister, and was enjoying it immensely. She found herself looking for little ways to challenge Mr. Voss without risking outright insubordination.
“You are measuring and inspecting parts to ensure that they are uniform,” he said patiently, as if to a halfwit. “And you are setting aside any that are not.”
Soon it came to be known that the parts they were inspecting were for the battleship Missouri, whose keel had been laid almost a year before Pearl Harbor in Dry Dock 4. Later, the Missouri’s hull had been floated across Wallabout Bay to the building ways: vast iron enclosures whose zigzagging catwalks evoked the Coney Island Cyclone. Knowing that the parts she was inspecting would be adjoined to the most modern battleship ever built had indeed brought some additional zest to the work for Anna. But not enough.
When the lunch whistle blew at eleven-thirty, she was itching to get outside. In order to justify leaving the building, she didn’t bring a lunch—a ploy she knew did not fool Mr. Voss. But he couldn’t very well deny a girl food, so he watched grimly as she made for the door while the marrieds unwrapped sandwiches from waxed paper and talked about husbands in boot camp or overseas; who’d had a letter; clues or hunches or dreams as to where their beloveds might be; how desperately frightened they were. More than one girl had wept, describing her terror that a husband or fiancé would not return. Anna couldn’t listen. The talk stirred in her an uncomfortable anger at these girls, who seemed so weak. Thankfully, Mr. Voss had put an end to that topic during working hours, prompting an unlikely trill of gratitude in Anna. Now they sang songs from their colleges while they worked: Hunter, St. Joseph’s, Brooklyn College, whose song Anna finally learned—not having bothered to in the year she was a student there.
She synchronized her wristwatch with the large wall clock they all answered to, and stepped outdoors. After the sealed hush of her shop, the roar of Yard noise always shocked her: crane and truck and train engines; the caterwaul of steel being cut and chipped in the nearby structural shop; men hollering to be heard. The stench of coal and oil mingled with gusts of chocolate from the factory on Flushing Avenue. It wasn’t making chocolate anymore, but something for soldiers to eat when they might otherwise starve. This chocolate cousin was supposed to taste like a boiled potato, Anna had heard, so that soldiers wouldn’t be tempted to snack on it ahead of time. But the smell was still delicious.
As she hurried alongside Building 4, the structural shop, with its thousand dingy windows, she saw a girl climbing onto a bicycle. Anna didn’t register at first that it was a girl; she wore the same plain blue work clothes they all did. But something in her bearing, the flair with which she mounted, caught Anna’s eye, and she watched the girl glide away with a shiver of envy.
At a canteen near the piers, she bought her forty-cent boxed meal—today it was chicken, mashed potatoes, canned peas, and applesauce—and made her way toward Piers C and D, both close enough to her shop that she could eat (often while standing, even walking) and be back on her stool by twelve-fifteen. A ship had berthed at Pier C since the previous day, its sudden towering apparition almost otherworldly. With each step Anna took toward the ship, its height seemed to rise, until she had to tip her head fully back to follow the curved prow all the way up to the distant deck. It was thronged with sailors, identical-looking in their toylike uniforms and caps, all leaning over the rail to gawk at something below. In that same moment, a chorus of catcalls reached her. She went still, clutching her boxed lunch—then saw with relief that the object of their ardor was not her but the girl on the bicycle, who was riding back alongside the ship from the foot of the pier, a tousle of peroxide curls pried from her scarf by the wind. Anna watched her approach, trying to discern whether the girl was enjoying this attention or not. Before she could make up her mind, the bicycle hit a patch of gravel and skidded on its side, dumping its rider onto the brick-paved pier, to the jeering hilarity of the sailors. Had the men been within reach of the girl, they doubtless would have elbowed each other aside to rush to her aid. But at such a height, with only each other to show off for, they settled for an orgy of heckling:
“Aw, poor baby lost her balance.”
“Shame she’s not wearing a skirt.”
“Say, you’re pretty even when you’re crying.”
But the girl wasn’t crying. She stood up angrily, humiliated but defiant, and Anna decided then that she liked her. She’d thought fleetingly of running to help the girl, but was glad she’d resisted—two girls struggling with a bicycle would be funnier than just one. And this girl would not have wanted help. She straightened her shoulders and walked the bicycle slowly to the top of the pier, where Anna was, giving no sign that she heard anything. Anna saw how pretty she was, with dimpled cheeks and flickering blue eyes, those Jean Harlow curls. Familiar, too—perhaps because she looked the way Lydia might have looked had she not been the way she was. The world was full of strangers (Betty Grable among them) for whom Anna felt a sisterly affection for that reason. But as the girl stalked past, ignoring Anna, she recognized her as one of the girls whom reporters had chosen to follow in September, on the first day girls had started working at the Naval Yard. Anna had seen her picture in the Brooklyn Eagle.
When she was safely past the ship, the girl mounted her bicycle and rode away. Anna checked her wristwatch and discovered with horror that she was almost thirteen minutes late. She sprinted toward her building, aware of creating a mild spectacle by running. She flew past the inspectors on the first floor—all men, using ladders to measure bigger parts—and resumed her stool at 12:37, sweat coursing from her armpits along the inside of her jumpsuit. She fixed her eyes on the tray of small parts she was given each day to measure and tried to quell her panting. Rose, a married she was friendly with, gave her a warning look from the next table.
The micrometer was stupidly easy to use: clasp, screw, read. Anna had been delighted with this assignment at first; girls in trades like welding and riveting had needed six weeks of instruction, whereas inspecting required just a week of aptitude tests. She was among college girls, and Mr. Voss had used the word “elite” in his introductory remarks, which had pleased her. Above all, she was tired of working with her hands. But after two days of reading the micrometer and then stamping a paper that came with her tray to certify that the parts were uniform, Anna found that she loathed the job. It was monotonous yet required concentration; numbingly mundane yet critical enough that it took place in a “clean room.” Squinting at the micrometer made her head pound. She had an urge sometimes to try and use just her fingers to gauge whether the parts were correctly sized. But she could only guess, then had to measure to find out if her guess was correct. And the all-knowing Mr. Voss had spotted her working with her eyes closed. “May I ask what you’re doing, Miss Kerrigan?” he’d remarked. When Anna told him (for the amusement of the marrieds), he’d said, “This is no time for whimsy. We’ve a war to fight.”
Now, when the shift was done and they were back in street clothes, Mr. Voss asked Anna to step inside his office. No one had ever been called to his office; this was ominous.
“Shall I wait?” Rose asked as the other marrieds wished her luck and hurried away. But Anna demurred, knowing that Rose had a baby to get home to.
The snapper’s office was bare and provisional, like most of the Naval Yard. After standing briefly when she entered, Mr. Voss resumed his seat behind a metal desk. “You were twenty minutes late returning from lunch,” he said. “Twenty-two, in fact.”
Anna stood before him, her heart pumping directly into her face. Mr. Voss was an important man in the Yard; the commandant had telephoned him more than once. He could have her dismissed. This was a prospect she hadn’t fully considered in the weeks she’d spent gently galling him. But it struck her now with force: she had withdrawn from Brooklyn College. If she weren’t here at work, she would be back at home with her mother, caring for Lydia.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It won’t happen again.”
“Have a seat,” he said, and Anna lowered herself onto a chair. “If you’ve not had much experience in the working world, these rules and restrictions must seem like quite a bother.”
“I’ve worked all my life,” she said, but it sounded hollow. She was full of shame, as if she’d glimpsed her own reflection in a shopwindow and found it ridiculous. A college girl craving a taste of war work. An “elite.” That was how he must see her. Slogans from the Shipworker drifted through her mind: minutes saved here mean lives saved there. when you don’t work, you work for the enemy.
“You’re aware that we may not win the war,” he said.
She blinked. “Why, yes. Of course.” Newspapers weren’t allowed inside the Naval Yard for fear of damaging morale, but Anna bought a Times each evening outside the Sands Street gate.
“You realize that the Nazis have Stalingrad surrounded.”
She nodded, head bowed in humiliation.
“And that the Japs control the Pacific theater from the Philippines to New Guinea?”
“You understand that the work we do here, building and repairing Allied ships, is what allows sailors, airplanes, bombs, and convoy escorts to reach the field of battle?”
A filament of annoyance waggled inside her. He’d made his point. “Yes.”
“And that hundreds of Allied merchantmen have been torpedoed since the war began, with more going down each day?”
“We’re losing fewer ships than before, and building more,” she said quietly, having read this in the Times just recently. “Kaiser shipyard built a Liberty ship in ten days last month.”
It sounded egregiously fresh, and Anna waited for the blow to fall. But Mr. Voss merely said after a pause, “I notice you don’t bring a lunch. I presume you live at home?”
“Yes, I do,” Anna said. “But my mother and I are awfully busy caring for my sister. She’s badly crippled.”
This was true. But also untrue. Her mother made breakfast and dinner for Anna; she easily could have packed a lunch, and had offered to. Anna had slipped into the unguarded manner she often found herself assuming with strangers, or virtual strangers. Her reward was a faint disturbance of surprise in Mr. Voss’s face.
“Now, that’s a shame,” he said. “Can’t your father help?”
“He’s gone.” She almost never revealed this fact, and hadn’t planned to.
“In the service?” He looked dubious; surely a man with a nineteen-year-old daughter would be too old.
“He abandoned your family?”
“Five years ago.”
Had Anna felt any emotion at this disclosure, she would have concealed it. But she did not. Her father had left the apartment as he would have on any day—she couldn’t even recall it. The truth had arrived gradually, like nightfall: a recognition, when she caught herself awaiting his return, that she’d waited days, then weeks, then months—and he’d still not come. She was fourteen, then fifteen. Hope became the memory of hope: a numb, dead patch. She no longer could picture him clearly.
Mr. Voss took a long breath. “Well, that is difficult,” he said. “Very difficult for you and your mother.”
“And my sister,” she said reflexively.
The silence that opened around them was uncomfortable but not unpleasant. It was a change. Mr. Voss’s shirtsleeves were rolled; she noticed the blond hairs on his hands and strong rectangular wrists. Anna sensed his sympathy, but the tight aperture of their discourse afforded no channel through which sentiment might flow. And sympathy was not what she wanted. She wanted to go out at lunchtime.
The bustle of the shift change had settled; the night inspectors must be at work on their trays. Anna found herself recalling the girl on the bicycle. Nell—the name came to her suddenly, from the newspaper caption.
“Miss Kerrigan,” Mr. Voss said at last. “You may go out for lunch, if you will carefully mind the time and work to your full capacity.”
“Thank you,” Anna cried, leaping to her feet. Mr. Voss looked startled, then stood as well. He smiled, something she hadn’t seen before. It changed him, that smile, as if all the severity he displayed on the inspection floor were a hiding place from which this amiable man had just waved hello. Only his voice was the same.
“I expect your mother will be needing you at home,” he said. “Good evening.”
One definition of a great novel, William Styron said, is that it should "leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." Jennifer Egan's immensely satisfying fifth novel, Manhattan Beach…has a good deal of that kind of life-swamping and life-supplementing effect. It's a dreadnought of a World War II-era historical novel, bristling with armaments yet intimate in tone. It's an old-fashioned page-turner, tweaked by this witty and sophisticated writer so that you sometimes feel she has retrofitted sleek new engines inside a craft owned for too long by James Jones and Herman Wouk…Egan is a generous writer. She doesn't write dialogue, for example, so much as she writes repartee. Many writers' books go slack when their characters open their mouths, as if dullness equals verisimilitude. Egan's minty dialogue snaps you to attention…Egan works a formidable kind of magic…This is a big novel that moves with agility. It's blissfully free of rust and sepia tint. It introduces us to a memorable young woman who is, as Cathy longed to be again in Wuthering Heights, "half savage and hardy, and free."The New York Times - Dwight Garner
…a more traditional novel than the raucous and inventive Goon Squad, although the two books offer many of the same pleasures, including fine turns of phrase, a richly imagined environs and a restless investigation into human nature…A central satisfaction of the novel resides in how far-flung Egan's characters will become and what varied terrain they will explore, before being inevitably drawn back together…Manhattan Beach is principally a novel of New York. As such, it inevitably pays tribute to the city's iconography…But these familiar landmarks are not the focus of Egan's narrative. Refreshingly, Egan and her characters turn their backs on a Manhattan interior defined by subways and skyscrapers, Broadway and Wall Street, to look outward to sea…The prevalence of the ocean in this story is not simply atmospheric; it is central to the symbolism…For Anna the sight of the sea provides an "electric mix of attraction and dread" while for Eddie it's "an infinite hypnotic expanse" and for Dexter it's "never the same on any two days, not if you really looked." Egan really looks, and so do her characters. Turning their backs on the crowded constraints of their urban lives, all three look to the ocean as a realm that while inherently dangerous also promises the potential for personal discovery and an almost mystical liberty. This is a novel that deserves to join the canon of New York stories.The New York Times Book Review - Amor Towles
★ 05/08/2017Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer-winner Egan's splendid novel begins in 1934 Brooklyn as Eddie Kerrigan struggles to support his wife and two daughters, one of whom is severely disabled. He finds work as a bagman, ferrying bribes for a corrupt union official. One day he brings his healthy daughter, Anna, to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner with underworld partners. The 11-year-old can't comprehend their business, but she senses that the two men have become "friends." By the time Anna is 19, Eddie has inexplicably vanished and America is in the Second World. Working a dull job inspecting ship parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Anna seizes the opportunity to become the first female civilian diver there. Around the same time, a second encounter with Dexter Styles raises hopes that he can help untangle the mysteries of her father's disappearance. As the stories eddy through time, Egan makes haunting use of shore and water motifs to balance dense period detail and explore the liminal spaces—between strength and weakness, depth and surface, past and future, life and death—through which her protagonists move. More straightforwardly narrated than some of Egan's earlier work, including the celebrated A Visit from the Goon Squad, the novel is tremendously assured and rich, moving from depictions of violence and crime to deep tenderness. The book's emotional power once again demonstrates Egan's extraordinary gifts. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Oct.)
“A new classic of American fiction.”Time
“Groundbreaking... Features characters about whom you come to care deeply as you watch them doing things they shouldn’t, acting gloriously, infuriatingly human.”Chicago Tribune
“The smartest book you can get your hands on.”Los Angeles Times
“Audacious, extraordinary.”Philadelphia Inquirer
“At once intellectually stimulating and moving.”San Francisco Chronicle
“Pitch perfect... Darkly, ripplingly funny... Egan possesses a satirist’s eye and a romance novelist’s heart.”The New York Times Book Review
“[Egan’s] prose moves in a way that feels effortless, a sure sign that it’s anything but. . . . It’s the best sort of historical fiction, transporting the reader to another place without ever loosing bonds of the familiar. Egan’s characters are vivid, their authenticity a kind of wonder, their losses and joys achingly true. . . . Egan sets the knot, and we are all in thrall.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Intricately patterned and visionary . . . .Manhattan Beach . . . plunges into the past to discover what lies beneath the surface of our own world.” —The Atlantic
“Reading Manhattan Beach feels restorative . . . deeply imagined . . . [and] very, very welcome.” —Slate
"Highly atmospheric... immediate... expertly written" –Goop
“It’s an astutely executed piece of historical literature that’s also unafraid to indulge in the thrills of its rich plot.”—Minneapolis City Pages
“Manhattan Beach is... beautifully written throughout... But for an author who won literature’s highest accolade for a book based on its uniqueness, it’s perhaps even more impressive that she can also write a fantastic novel that is, at least on the surface, as classic as they come.” –GQ
“Jennifer Egan does everything right as a novelist, with vivid characters and surprising enough plot twists... but she pushes all her work some notches higher with her evocation of what it feels like to be the first woman to experience the previously forbidden world of undersea divers.” –Buffalo News
“Manhattan Beach” is an old-fashioned page-turner that more than delivers on the foreboding promise of its 'Treasure Island'-like opening set piece. The book is a Whitmanesque mosaic that truly does 'embrace multitudes.'” –Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“Haunting, shrewd, and immensely pleasurable.” –The Nation
Praise for Jennifer Egan:
“Jennifer Egan may well be the best living American novelist.” —Joe Klein, Time
“Jennifer Egan is a writer of tremendous intelligence and grace.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Jennifer Egan is . . . dizzyingly inventive.” —The Washington Post
“Is there anything Egan can’t do?” —The New York Times Book Review (cover review)From the Publisher
★ 09/01/2017Library Journal
The latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Egan (A Visit from the Goon Squad) centers on the Brooklyn Naval Yard during World War II. Anna Kerrigan lives with her mother and disabled sister, Lydia, her father having disappeared years earlier. She works measuring ship parts at the yard but longs to be a diver, doing salvage and repair underwater. At first by chance and later by design, she encounters Dexter Styles, a gangster who may know something about her father's disappearance. Along the way, Anna usually takes the most reckless path, rarely considering the long-term consequences. The setting is rich and textured, and unexpected turns of phrase, such as a male naval officer being described as petite, startle and delight. Egan offers thrilling accounts of shipwreck and of Anna's diving training, avoiding most clichés in her depictions of the criminal underworld inhabited by Dexter and Anna's father, as well as the motivations and conflicted loyalties that that life brings. VERDICT This large, ambitious novel shows Egan at the top of her game. Anna is a true feminist heroine, and her grit and tenacity will make readers root for her. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/19/17.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
★ 2017-06-20Kirkus Reviews
After stretching the boundaries of fiction in myriad ways (including a short story written in Tweets), Pulitzer Prize winner Egan (A Visit from the Goon Squad, 2010, etc.) does perhaps the only thing left that could surprise: she writes a thoroughly traditional novel.It shouldn't really be surprising, since even Egan's most experimental work has been rich in characters and firmly grounded in sharp observation of the society around them. Here, she brings those qualities to a portrait of New York City during the Depression and World War II. We meet 12-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanying her adored father, Eddie, to the Manhattan Beach home of suave mobster Dexter Styles. Just scraping by "in the dregs of 1934," Eddie is lobbying Styles for a job; he's sick of acting as bagman for a crooked union official, and he badly needs money to buy a wheelchair for his severely disabled younger daughter, Lydia. Having rapidly set up these situations fraught with conflict, Egan flashes forward several years: Anna is 19 and working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the sole support of Lydia and their mother since Eddie disappeared five years earlier. Adult Anna is feisty enough to elbow her way into a job as the yard's first female diver and reckless enough, after she runs into him at one of his nightclubs, to fall into a one-night stand with Dexter, who initially doesn't realize whose daughter she is. Disastrous consequences ensue for them both but only after Egan has expertly intertwined three narratives to show us what happened to Eddie while drawing us into Anna's and Dexter's complicated longings and aspirations. The Atlantic and Indian oceans play significant roles in a novel saturated by the sense of water as a vehicle of destiny and a symbol of continuity (epigraph by Melville, naturally). A fatal outcome for one appealing protagonist is balanced by Shakespearean reconciliation and renewal for others in a tender, haunting conclusion. Realistically detailed, poetically charged, and utterly satisfying: apparently there's nothing Egan can't do.
Praise for Jennifer Egan:
“Jennifer Egan may well be the best living American novelist.”Time - Joe Klein
“Jennifer Egan is a writer of tremendous intelligence and grace.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Jennifer Egan is . . . dizzyingly inventive.”The Washington Post
“Is there anything Egan can’t do?”The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
Advanced Praise for Manhattan Beach:
“Egan’s propulsive, surprising, ravishing, and revelatory saga, a covertly profound page-turner that will transport and transform every reader, casts us all as divers in the deep, searching for answers, hope, and ascension.”Booklist (starred review)
Advanced Praise for Manhattan Beach:
“Egan’s propulsive, surprising, ravishing, and revelatory saga, a covertly profound page-turner that will transport and transform every reader, casts us all as divers in the deep, searching for answers, hope, and ascension.”Booklist