Manhattan Beach

In both substance and style, Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach marks an abrupt departure from her 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. She turns away from the artistic high-wire act that illuminated some of the dark corners of American popular culture and instead delivers a story about the machinations of the New York mob amid the United States' effort to defeat Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, Egan again creates a sophisticated, satisfying blend of artfully drawn characters and skillfully plotted drama.

Set principally in Brooklyn in the early 1940s, Manhattan Beach revolves around Anna Kerrigan, whose father, Eddie, a bagman for one of the principals of the "Wop Syndicate," mysteriously disappeared half a decade earlier, leaving behind his wife, Anna, and her profoundly handicapped sister. Anna works as a parts inspector at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but her ambition is to become a professional diver and repair the massive vessels she gazes at on her lunch hour. In order to overcome the undisguised sexism of that time and achieve her goal, she's forced to prove herself even more skilled than the men against whom she's competing.

One of the most impressive aspects of Manhattan Beach is the verisimilitude of Egan's storytelling. She delivers a terrifying description of a merchant ship crew's battle to survive a U-boat attack in the Indian Ocean. It is Melvillean in its vivid detail, something that's also true of her accounts of Anna's diving exploits. Jennifer Egan has applied her considerable talents to the far-from-simple task of telling an absorbing story, leaving it to readers to ponder the larger meaning of Anna's tale. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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