Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Rate: 4/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers):

Manhattan Beach was first recommended to me well over a year and a half ago by a coworker who even brought the book to my desk and told me I absolutely had to read it immediately. As should be obvious from the time elapsed between when introduced and and the posting of this review, life had other plans. Shortly, after Nicole had given me the book to read, I took a new job, whereupon I returned Manhattan Beach to her with only a few chapters read. With the distraction of the new job, this title soon fell completely off my to-be-read list. It was only when a month ago that Manhattan Beach showed up on a list of available books from my local library that my memory was jogged, and the title made its way back to my possession.  This novel took several chapters to get warmed up, but Egan’s eloquent writing style swirled with each ebb and flow of the alternating view points, drawing the reader ever further into the depths of this emotionally toying read. Egan touches on several, various topics throughout this evolving read from the Great Depression, and women’s rights, to disabilities in the 1920-1940s and World War II. Despite covering a wide ranging topics, they’re woven, seamlessly together in a story that will evoke the full spectrum of emotions, all the while keeping the reader on their toes as to the direction the story is headed due to the key placement of several unexpected plot twists. The characters were meticulously crafted and imbued with depth through the aid of subtle cues during inner dialogue or interactions that seemingly effortlessly added layer by layer. Toward the end, just as the arc was winding to its zenith, Egan’s characters seemed to stumble in stark contrast to the foundation that had been carefully crafted throughout the read. The stressful sequence of events leading up to the story altering twist took on a forced nature that seemed to stand out, breaking the reading trance I love falling into while reading. This hitch aside, Manhattan Beach wove a haunting account of heartbreak and perseverance during a time of change and uncertainty in the United States, that managed to tie nicely my recent read, Code Girls.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

I was so upset when Anna’s father had left! I’d of course assumed he’d died and was torn when his POV showed up. I wanted so badly to dislike him but couldn’t help but like him as his story evolved. I don’t understand why he couldn’t eventually secretly maneuver his family to move out west though. How did he get caught?

Dexter’s death was so abrupt! What did he do that was on the level of worth killing? My least favorite part of the book was when Dexter insisted on diving. It was so unrealistic that he survived that experience, let alone aided Anna in her searching. Another ridiculous aspect was that they actually found the spot they dumped the body and in those terrible conditions found the watch on the first attempt. This is where the story officially lost me.

Did Dexter’s wife know his death was coming?

I loved that Anna became a diver after all her perseverance and that she was able to move across country to continue diving post having a baby.

What did Anna’s mom do after finding out her husband was still alive?



  1. I like the Critiquing Chemist, but don’t like the review. The sentences are over long and not indicating any criticism, good or bad. I don’t care about anyone’s elaborate writing style if the reader is not learning anything.
    What I know about Manhattan Beach before the 1920s. It supplied much of the sand for cement to build big projects in LA. Next came some down time, but it picked up with WWII. I had relatives living there. I’ve written about their lives.
    In the Sixties they sold and got out. Hippies were invading, like in Venice Beach a few miles up the coast on the other side of the airport. By the Eighties Manhattan Beach became trendy, and next Wow! Small great white sharks were off the beach for a mile in the middle of this decade.
    The point of all this, is setting, which is much more important than characters and story. If a book or movie is going to entitled about the place have the place reflected in the novel or the movie.


    • I am curious, why do you think a setting is more important than the characters and plot? Even when the book is titled after a setting, I still see the setting as a back drop.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As I may have mentioned, stories about about who the characters are and where they are going – that can be a detective story, an emotional break down, or a business setting. Each SETTING, place where the action takes place, defines the character and the action. For instance, a street radical in a boardroom? Get him/jher there. if the street radical, he knows he’s not preaching to the choir, his street contingency. Does the street radical want to have an impact, or squander his opportunity. The outcome of that will depend on what you make of the story, and also define what the strengths, intelligence and oversights the character may have.


      • Happy New Years Michael and Eli! You both bring up interesting points but that exemplifies why literature is wonderful. Various aspects of writing, whether it’s the world building or details included stand out to each reader differently. It sounds like we tend to focus on totally different aspects of the books we read, which is actually pretty great. Wouldn’t life be dull if all books followed the same cookie cutter mold.


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