Tag Archives: new york city

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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A Little Life Book Event at NeueHouse

hanya1A couple of weeks ago, I attended a book conversation about A Little Life hosted by the CFDA at NeueHouse. The conversation was between Steven Kolb, the president of the CFDA, and author Hanya Yanagihara. The event was a little odd in that the conversation felt like an awkward pairing and the venue felt a little snobbish (though probably very aligned with the taste of the members of the CFDA). While I felt like the conversation was a bit strange at times (mostly because it seemed like this event was simply a passion project for Kolb who loved the book and because the CFDA is mentioned briefly within the book), I’m very thankful that I got to attend to see the amazing Hanya Yanagihara in the flesh.

A Little Life has hands down been my favorite read of 2016 and I’ll be posting my own book conversation about the book to this blog soon. While the content of the book is emotionally brutal (see GoodReads for the marketing synopsis), it’s beautifully written and each member of my book club awarded the book five stars! I read this book with four friends and most of us attended the event together, which felt pretty perfect because this book centers on four friends who are navigating adulthood and their past in New York City (just like us!).

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Steven Kolb, left, and author Hanya Yanagihara, right, at A Little Life book conversation.

Here are some loose (i.e. not direct, verbatim) quotes from the author about the book that hopefully intrigue you into adding A Little Life to your to read list! Do it, do it, do it!

When Yanagihara was questioned about why the book doesn’t denote any historical markers, she said the setting is the “interior and internal New York so that you’re trapped in the universe of these characters’ lives. It’s intimate and claustrophobic. It ignores historical, political, and world events so everything that happens can’t be alluded to being influenced by these things.” She added, “It’s a psychological, not physical, book of New York […] and maturing in a society you must engage in even when you don’t want to.” 

On writing her characters, Yanagihara stated that Jude was the easiest to write and is “a character who never gets better and ends up in more or less the same place despite trying to change […] I think we all have someone like that in our lives who inspire so much love, but can’t accept it.” When asked who she relates to the most of her characters, Yanagihara seemed to shock moderator Kolb by selecting JB because he’s the most like her and she “gave him the best lines and he’s the one who changes the most.” After witnessing her wit in person, I can confirm this statement!

New York is almost like a character in the book, even though the author strives to eliminate any specific indicators of exact time. When describing New York, Yanagihara stated, “New York is a sanctuary for those who wanted to find and make families of their own either because they left or were rejected from their families. You form a tribe of families where you find people who get you.” On work culture and motivation of those who reside in New York, “Everyone comes to New York to be successful and we fetishize success in a way that’s unique to the city […] There’s a sense of ‘I’ve made it and I’m not going back.’ It’s a constant treadmill quality and I wanted these characters to have that material success as well.” And finally when connecting the title of the work to the shared New York experience, “In New York, we identify lives as big or little, but ultimately even the big lives are little.” 

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Yanagihara is sassy and quick witted. This event left me desperately wanting to drink a bloody mary with her and bask in her amazingness. Despite the general lack of laugh out loud moments within the novel because of the heartbreaking storylines, Yanagihara is hilarious and brilliant and I excitedly anticipate whatever new creative project will be released by her next. Pick up this book, read it, hold it close to your chest, and try to see Yanagihara at an event near you! The paperback version of the book was recently released and I can confirm it’s much easier to read on the subway than the hardcover!

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!