Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Jennifer Egan, MANHATTAN BEACH
Reading some of the reviews afterwards, I found myself surprised. Boring? Conventional? Crap? Hm. ... Several readers suggest that this book suffers by comparison with Egan's Pulitzer-Prize-winning A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, which was admittedly an extraordinary, inventive, ambitious post-mod novel. But as Elphaba sings--"I'm not that girl." This book isn't that kind of book and doesn't attempt to be (to me, it hearkens back to The Keep rather than Goon); and judged on its own merits, as an historical noir-ish novel, it has much to recommend it, including original characters and details that to me felt organic, germane, and presented with Egan's usual skill. I read this book in two days; and if at times I felt psychological motivation was a bit thin (just why does Anna want to become a diver? why is she attracted to Dexter Styles? why exactly does Eddie seem so emotionally detached from his family?) I was willing to forgive it because I felt transported to the time and place--and because in noir-ish books, characters tend to be somewhat inscrutable. To me, that's part of the general darkness. Maybe I'm just a sucker for any kind of historical novel (particularly with a bit of mystery), but there were passages that gave me the satisfying feeling of Egan having gotten it just right, needlepoint as opposed to the nautical knots Anna undoes. For example--and it doesn't really work to take sentences out of context--in describing Merchant Marine men: "No one talked more than men on ships, but the point of the stories they told was to hide the ones they could never divulge to anyone." "Mackey gave him a strained, haunted glance--the look of a man whose desperation had trumped his ability to play along."