Tag Archives: brooklyn

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

manhattanbeachI was eager to read the next novel by Jennifer Egan after loving A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was intriguingly constructed and unique. That story spun from character to character and wove a beautiful, interconnected web. To her credit, Egan tried to establish a similar web with Manhattan Beach, but it mostly fell flat for me. In contrast to the other, the reader spends their time reading the perspectives of three characters instead of a wider multitude and the character spins aren’t as great. While Egan clearly excelled at writing some of the characters, not all of them seemed fully developed. 
Manhattan Beach mostly takes place during the 1940s, but weaves to times before then occasionally, and the war is perpetually on the horizon. A theme of water moves throughout the entire novel with our three main characters all meeting at the beach for the first time, two of the characters diving together to find clues about a third, and one working on a ship.
The main characters are Eddie, the patriarch of an Irish family in Brooklyn who eventually becomes involved with the shadow world aka organized crime, Eddie’s daughter Anna who we follow from youth to her early 20s where she aspires to be a civilian diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Dexter Styles, a prominent figure within New York’s shadow world who employs Eddie. In addition to our three central characters, so many characters are mentioned in passing (particularly those related to Dexter Styles) that it was hard to keep track of who they are, why they matter, and what their relevant traits are when they’re reintroduced. 
I liked all of the bits from Eddie’s perspective the best and if we had followed him throughout the entire novel instead, this book very well could have garnered 5 stars from me. There’s a moving scene with Eddie on a raft that will stay with me for weeks. Aside from Eddie’s bits, the novel trudges along slowly and picks up in the last 100 pages (though it seems like other reviewers disagree with me and felt like the first 100 pages were the most engaging).
Overall, the novel was well written, but the story arcs and setting just weren’t for me. I haven’t been a fan of historical fiction in over a decade (remember that Dear America diary series? *swoon*) and this book didn’t incite me to switch back into the historical fiction appreciation camp. When I was more interested in this genre, I was partial to historical pieces that aren’t based in America so it’s very possible I could’ve liked something like this had it been situated elsewhere, but I simply didn’t find this story all that interesting. If you’re an Egan fan with a hunkering for some NYC historical fiction, this will be great. If you’re not… well, you’re not. 
My favorite quote from the novel is, of course from one of Eddie’s bits, when he is reflecting on his relationship with his daughter Anna:
“It was as if being his daughter had blinded her uniquely, as if anyone else — everyone — had seen and known him in a way she could not.”
Manhattan Beach will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on October 3, 2017! 
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Scribner via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Scribner or NetGalley.
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The Lonely City Book Event at Community Bookstore

I’ve had my head so up in the clouds lately that I completely forgot to post about attending a lovely book event a few weeks ago. On March 15, 2016, I went to a book event + signing for Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY.  A small group of my friends had decided that this would be our next book club read after A Little Life (book review coming soon! I’m actually going to a book event featuring that author of that work tomorrow evening…) and I coincidentally found that a book event was being hosted in our borough in the next few days! Talk about perfect timing!

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Author Olivia Laing reading an excerpt from her new book The Lonely City to a packed house at Community Bookstore.

Laing began her event by discussing the research she put into her book, which is a blend of mostly nonfiction with a brush of memoir. Laing describes the lives of (mostly visual) artists and their surrounding loneliness, regardless of the number of people they had in their lives. After moving to New York and finding herself without attachments, Laing occupied herself by exploring her own loneliness and the loneliness of different artists through 2 years of research into their lives and their art.laingreading

In her previous work The Trip to Echo Spring, she intertwined alcoholism with the lives of authors. At the event, Laing mentioned that she could’ve tied the lives of authors with the concept of loneliness too, but that she felt like urban loneliness was very visual.
When describing urban loneliness, which Laing also experienced when living in New York, she said something along the lines of (aka this is not a direct quote):

There’s an experience of being in a city where you can see much more than you can reach. You can see many people, but you can’t connect with them. You feel isolated and agonizingly exposed. They run parallel and intensify each other.

I think the idea that Laing articulated is something that anyone who has ever been in an urban setting has experienced: the feeling of being physically surrounded by other living beings, but being disconnected from social or emotional links to others. As Laing quite concisely added,

Loneliness isn’t a lack of people, it’s a lack of intimacy.

I’m very much looking forward to diving into The Lonely City soon and you can bet it will be added to my #findabook rotation and hopefully be discovered by a lonely wanderer.

Side note: I had never been to this bookstore before and I will be returning soon! Community Bookstore had the BEST kids + YA section I’ve seen in a New York bookstore. I’ve tried to find some specific titles at many bookstores in the area and Community Bookstore had more on the shelf than I’ve seen elsewhere!