The Manhattan Beach Project: A Novel
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The good news is that Egan, despite a few lapses, has met the challenge. If "Manhattan Beach" isn't as thrilling or doesn't feel as effortless as some of her earlier efforts, it's still a richly imagined portrait of a bygone era, and a sly commentary on the racism and sexism of an earlier generation.
Egan introduces the setting in a brief opening set in the mids. Four days after Christmas, year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father, Eddie, to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles, a Runyonesque mobster who runs a series of nightclubs and talks about "dames who'd run over rooftops" to escape the feds.
Eddie has spent years working at the docks for union guy Dunellen, a shady character with a wooden leg who calls guys mutts and says, "Quit sticking your snoot where it doesn't belong. Ever since ships have stopped arriving, Eddie has worked as Dunellen's bagman, delivering payoffs to aldermen, state senators, police officers and others.
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But he has to earn more money because his younger daughter, Lydia, suffers from echolalia, can't move without help and needs a special wheelchair. Eddie appeals to Styles for a job. Styles decides to hire Ed — he refers to the Irish Kerrigan by a racial epithet common to the era, one of many such epithets used in the book — in part thanks to the "magnificence in the dark-eyed daughter" Anna.
Egan wears her research too heavily in this opening, as she does occasionally throughout the novel. The abundance of historical detail and brand name references — Frank Buck panda bears, Betsy Wetsy dolls, men drinking shots of rye — gives the impression that she may have been less sure of her material, at least at the outset, than she has been in other novels.
Jennifer Egan switches gears with novel set during World War II
The action jumps to , when year-old Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. She is now the family's breadwinner; Eddie disappeared under mysterious circumstances five years earlier.
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At first, her job is to inspect and measure parts for the battleship Missouri. Soon, despite the objections of a lieutenant who thinks it's not a job for "girls," she proves herself worthy of becoming the yard's first female diver.