Manhattan Beach is about Anna, a young woman who works in the Naval Shipyard factories and who is determined to become a diver, an idea that is laughable to the men in charge (this is during the WWII era, when women worked only because so many men were at the front). But, it’s also about the mystery of her father’s disappearance and the influential gangster who might know what happened.
The story weaves between three perspectives: Ed’s (the father), Anna’s and Dexter’s (the gangster). Though, it starts as Ed’s story, Anna quickly becomes the primary focus. It moves back and forth through the three characters slowly (typically, a couple chapters at a time), giving the reader time to get to know each of them: their lives, their relationships, and their perspective on each other.
I really enjoyed the story and the writing, which was often beautifully evocative. I also enjoyed the interwoven perspectives and I appreciated the social commentary Egan seamlessly interjected. The social issues she touched on included turning to crime to support a family during the depression, having a physically and mentally disabled child in the 30’s onward, being a woman, being black, and being gay. In each case, she may have only added a few off-hand notes or comments, but it was enough to remind the reader of how many social barriers people faced and how easy it was to end up the topic of rumours and prejudice.
I admit that I forgot who a couple of the background characters were throughout the book, periodically having to remind myself (or Google) why a person was important to Ed as the story progressed. But, that was likely because I was listening to the audiobook and not necessarily a fault in the story telling. Given that I listen during my commutes, it’s not unusual for me to be momentarily distracted on occasion. Also, I’m not a details person (give me a family tree and/or list of characters, and I will be thrilled).
The audiobook version that I listened to was beautifully performed by Norbert Leo Butz,
Heather Lind, and Vincent Piazza. Having the different voices helped to bring the characters to life and each seemed perfectly suited for their characters, while still doing a good job of portraying other characters.
Overall, I really loved this book. It was a great story and another example of how a historic novel can be a tool for social awareness and change.