Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
Set mainly in Brooklyn during the 1930s and 1940s, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is a coming of age account of a young woman, Anna Kerrigan, struggling to find her path and purpose. The story involves Dexter Styles, a shadowy gangster; her father, who disappears shortly after her twelfth birthday; her mother, a former Follies dancer; and her crippled younger sister Lydia.
It is wartime and Anna is employed at the Brooklyn Naval Yard where she holds what she considers to be a meaningless, repetitive job. Through sheer grit and determination she becomes the first female diver at the Naval Yard, a coveted and dangerous position. She dives to repair ships, empowering her with a feeling of meaningfully contributing to the War effort. Meanwhile, the cast of characters that surround her take on breadth and life of their own. Egan spins together history, mystery, the underworld, and family into a thrilling and beautifully crafted novel. It reminded me of the masterfully written novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow. This book was on the New York Times best of 2017 list, and for good reason. It is a great read that I highly recommend.
Review by Barry Novick