Manhattan Beach
by Jennifer Egan
Corsair

Manhattan Beach is a historical novel, more or less, that proceeds fairly straightforwardly from a beginning (New York during the Great Depression) through a middle (the build-up to the second world war) to an end (wartime life). The fuss about this owes much to Egan’s previous work, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010), which won the Pulitzer Prize and messed with everything from the short story to Power­Point presenta­tion.

Egan proves as good at turning pages as she was in carving glorious meta-fiction from prison writing, adventure stories and creative-writing classes (in The Keep [2006]). Our heroine is Anna Kerrigan. In the opening section, she is 11 and just about surviving in poverty when her father, Eddie (a stockbroker fallen on hard times), meets a criminally attractive mob-type. The encounter on the titular beach haunts everything that follows.

In section two, we find Anna, now 19, working as a diver to support her mother and disabled sister. She is forced to be the bread-winner, we learn, by Eddie’s sudden and unexplained disappearance.

Egan’s slow drip feed of information almost makes Manhattan Beach a thriller, but it also asks profound questions about experience, family, loss and truth. While not as dazzling as Goon Squad, the novel only extends Egan’s brilliant versatility.