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May 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Titles similar to Manhattan Beach
Anna is devoted to her severely disabled sister, Lydia, as is her beautiful mother, a Minnesota farm girl who made her way to New York and the Ziegfeld Follies. Eddie can barely look at his twisted, immobile youngest but commits himself to making enough money to provide the care she needs, hence his dangerous association with Styles, who walks a thin line between legitimate prestige and violent criminality via his ties to the Syndicate. Eddie’s gamble backfires, and he disappears.
After a year of college, Anna joins the war effort, securing a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard inspecting parts for battleships. She has an epiphany while watching a man don a massive diving suit: she is destined to be a diver. Her wildly unconventional conviction carries her over every obstacle entrenched misogyny places in her way. Egan revels in Anna’s moxie, training, underwater ship-repairing missions, and growing expertise, describing every object, action, and conversation with exhilarating specificity. She knows precisely how those 200-pound diving suits worked, how they felt from the inside, how divers were attached to their tenders above, how they were buffeted by the currents as they worked. She animates the Naval Yard, the waves of ambition, rivalry, gossip, and camaraderie among diverse men and women who never would have known each other if war hadn’t tossed them together.
Egan was able to write so vividly and fluidly about this seminal time and place because she has been researching the Naval Yard and its divers since 2004, six years before A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)appeared. In that innovative and episodic novel, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Booklist’s Top of the List, Egan considered the seismic impact of digital technology, as she did in The Keep (2006), in which gothic meets high-tech. Here, in this more traditionally told tale, she looks back to the coalescence of an earlier technological revolution as the world went to war, American industrialization was weaponized, men were sent to the front, and women filled new jobs.
Like Dennis Lehane, Egan has combined insightful historical fiction with emotionally rich crime fiction to create a riveting and provocative investigation into the human condition. For all her keen attunement to social metamorphosis, what is most engrossing is Egan’s charting of the psychological eddies and storms that shape her irresistibly stubborn, risk-seeking characters. Eddie’s tough boyhood left him preferring “danger over sorrow any day of the week.” Anna does what she believes she must, no matter the consequences. How sharply Egan delineates the “byzantine calculus” inherent in underworld alliances; how powerfully she evokes the glory and perils of nature and the utter nihilism of erotic desire.
There’s more. Egan also follows the fate of the archetypcally motley crew of a merchant-marine ship in U-boat-infested waters, mustering the piercing detail and wrenching drama found in Melville and Conrad. Ultimately, 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.
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