Manhattan Beach Cover

Manhattan Beach

Jennifer Egan

The story of a family in Brooklyn during and after the Great Depression.

‘How do you know a gangster?’ ‘Usually the room goes a little quite when he walks in.’

Manhattan Beach begins in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, when a man, accompanied by his daughter, Anna, goes to visit a mysterious man at his house. While the girl is playing on the beach outside the house with the man’s children, the two seem to be discussing some secret pact.

The novel then jumps forward in time to the Second World War, when Anna is nineteen and works at the Naval Yard, where women hold jobs that would’ve belonged to men in peacetime. The reader also discovers that Anna’s father has disappeared and is believed to be dead. After a lot of trials and overcoming prejudices, Anna becomes the first female diver, responsible for repairing war ships. She is the only provider for her mother and her disabled sister. At a night club she meets Styles, the man she recognises as the one she visited with her father as a young girl. She introduces herself under a different name and doesn’t reveal the connection between them.

Anna starts to understand the complexity of the life her father was leading and the reasons why he was murdered.

The story is told by an omniscient narrator and the reader is given much information that the characters don’t know. What effect does that have on you as the reader?

How would you describe the relationship between Anna and Styles?

Why do you think Anna decides to not go through with the abortion?

Luck plays an important role throughout the novel and has particular significance for Anna, Dexter, and Ed. How does luck shape each of their lives? Good luck and bad luck?

Throughout the novel, characters create new identities for themselves and start over. How do these individual stories of reinvention relate to the spirit of optimism, the quest for newness that is so common among Americans at this time?

What do you discover through the novel about the lives of the women during the Second World War?

Manhattan-Beach-Discussion-Questions.pdf

In the second half of the novel, the reader is given the knowledge that Anna’s father is not dead but works on a ship. Meanwhile, Anna starts to feel attracted to Styles and they share a night of passion. After that she reveals to him who she really is and demands to know what happened to her father. He reluctantly agrees and with the help of some friends from the Naval Yard she dives in the spot where her father was supposedly abandoned, finding his watch. This is proof enough for her that her father is dead.

After some time, Anna realises that she is pregnant with Styles’ child and she decides to have an abortion with the help of a friend. However, she can’t go through with it. Styles is murdered on the orders of his boss, which Anna only finds out from the newspaper. She decides to confide in her aunt, though never revealing who the father is. The two come up with a plan that will take them to San Francisco and allow them to pretend that Anna is married. They also receive news from Anna’s father: he was caught in a storm while on a ship off the coast of South Africa and was stranded at sea for weeks. He has survived and will try to patch things up with his daughter, who reluctantly, little by little, allows him to get closer.

Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her unconventional novel A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Jennifer Egan had a writing fellowship at the New York Public Library in 2004-5 where she researched women workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the Second World War.

In college, Egan dated Steve Jobs, who personally installed a Macintosh in her room.

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