Like many readers, I first encountered Jennifer Egan by reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. I quickly filed this author under: innovative, brilliant, one to follow. I mean, she made Pulitzer Prize-winning literature out of a PowerPoint presentation in one of the GOON SQUAD’s interrelated stories. She writes about music and technology in a way that is in-the-know, but not too in-the-know. You know? I immediately joined the chorus singing her authorial praises.
GOON SQUAD is effortlessly cool, taking you from punk clubs to celebrity interviews gone wrong to safari trips in Kenya, shifting back and forth in time, enmeshing you in the world of a whole cast of characters without ever losing you for one second. Egan’s writing is impressive, addictive.
So when her next book—a novel this time, set solely in the past—came up, I was a little thrown.
MANHATTAN BEACH is capital-H Historical fiction. Set in 1940s New York, it has a noir feel to it and places you in the midst of World War II. The fierce protagonist, Anna Kerrigan, wants to become the first female diver while working on ships at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Anna also brushes against New York City’s darker sides while investigating her father’s disappearance.
While reading, you follow Anna to the navy yard, classes at Brooklyn College, Manhattan nightclubs, and you see her at home with her mother and her sister, who needs constant care. Anna moves through these worlds like a chameleon, and it is a pleasure to watch her. Dexter Styles, an associate of Anna’s missing father and a crime boss who has married his way into New York society, is a chameleon too, of a darker sort, but equally fascinating. When Anna’s and Dexter’s paths cross, in true noir fashion, it is deliciously dramatic.
But was the Jennifer Egan I loved from GOON SQUAD still there in MANHATTAN BEACH?
The answer, thank goodness, was yes. She may have traded aging rock stars in for gangsters, but Egan is still effortlessly cool here. In-the-know but not too in-the-know. Never losing you for a second. Whether she’s riffing on modern-day record execs and digital natives, or classic femme fatales and antiheroes, I now know to unhesitatingly follow Egan wherever she goes. Next up on the TBR list: THE INVISIBLE CIRCUS, LOOK AT ME, and THE KEEP—I have some catching up to do.