REVIEW: MANHATTAN BEACH, BY JENNIFER EGAN

 

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

 

My Thoughts: Our multiple narrators take us back and forth in time, centering on the 1930s and 40s.

Anna Kerrigan was twelve years old when we first meet her, but then time moved ahead and we see her after the loss of her father to mysterious circumstances…and how she meets up once again with Dexter Styles, who is a vivid memory of a time on the beach with her father.

The war years reveal the ways in which women were dismissed, and how hard Anna had to fight to get some of the things she wanted. Anna was a strong character struggling against the norms of the times, and experiencing pushback from the men around her.

The disabilities of Anna’s sister Lydia informed her life in the early years, and the moments would leave their mark of pain and loss.

What would ultimately fill in the gaps in Anna’s life? How would she make some crucial discoveries as she tries to create her niche in the world?

Manhattan Beach had some promising moments, but just when I would start to connect with a character, we would switch to another one…and stay away for a while. Back again, picking up with the previous characters, it took more time to fall into that character’s perspective. The book was too long and too erratic for me. I was disappointed, and kept trying to love the book…without success. Beautiful writing, with some interesting characters. 3.5 stars for me.

***

REVIEW: THE ORPHAN’S TALE, BY PAM JENOFF

the-orphans-tale

 

 

 

In Paris, at an exhibit celebrating Two-Hundred Years of Circus Magic, an old woman is searching a hiding place within a train car.

Flashback to 1940s Germany, and The Orphan’s Tale takes the reader through the alternating stories of two women: one, renamed Astrid Sorrell, a Jewish woman who was a member of a performing circus family, now lost to her; and the other, a young Dutch girl whose family cast her out when she got pregnant.

Their lives intertwine in a circus. The Dutch girl, Noa Weil, is found in the snow, almost frozen to death, clutching a young infant, whom she calls Theo. She told those who found her that he was her brother. She didn’t know them well enough to reveal how she came upon a boxcar of dying Jewish babies, and how she reached out to the one she could save.

Herr Neuhoff, the owner of a circus family, has taken in Astrid (formerly named Ingrid), whom he is protecting after her Nazi officer husband threw her out. He also takes in Noa, with the understanding that Astrid will train her to be an aerialist.

What an emotional tale! I loved getting to know Astrid and Noa, and watching the bonds between them develop and grow stronger. They seemed like enemies at first, and they certainly did not trust one another. But as they came to depend upon each other through their acts, they grew closer, finally beginning to share their secrets. Over the short time they were together in the circus, they faced constant and ever-present danger, never knowing when disaster would strike. The danger always hovered nearby from the Nazi officers, yet, despite it all, they held onto a little hope. Of somehow escaping, or finally discovering a way to have freedom in the circus world they had come to know and love.

Will Astrid finally find a way to escape? What about Noa, and her chance to be with Luc, the mayor’s son, with whom she has developed a connection? Will she take the chance, or will she cling to Astrid, whom she now has come to depend on? What about Theo? What surprising events transpire that will change everything?

Their sacrifices and bravery kept me turning the pages, wondering what would happen…and, ultimately, I wanted to know the identity of that old woman we met in the prologue, and what she was hoping to find in that train car? I cried as the story drew to a close, from sadness, and also from joy at the hard-won victories. Definitely a 5 star read for me.

cropped again 5***

SWEEPING SAGA HIGHLIGHTS THREE GENERATIONS — A REVIEW

From the very first page until the last, I could not stop reading this wonderfully vivid family drama. We meet each of the characters, one by one, in individual chapters devoted to them. In the first one, we meet Alice Kelleher, the matriarch, whose story really begins in a childhood filled with her father’s rages and her desire to escape. We then come to know, gradually, over the unfolding chapters in which she stars, about the loss of her sister Mary while they were on the cusp of their young adulthood, and how that moment informs the rest of her life.

Alice’s husband Daniel has been dead for ten years at the beginning of the story, and during the aftermath of that loss, she has been estranged from Kathleen, her oldest and Daniel’s favorite. Alice’s bitterness over this favoritism colors their relationship. But Kathleen, sober for twenty years, is happily ensconced in worm farming in the Napa-Sonoma Valley of California, with her recovering alcoholic partner Arlo. Her daughter and eldest child Maggie lives in New York enjoying the writer’s life, but struggling with her relationships. Something happens before that final summer of this story that will change everything for her.

Second daughter Clare is absent from the story, except as described by the others. Her absence says a lot about her relationship to the others.

Patrick, the youngest and only son, is visible through the eyes of his mother, sister, and wife. He is an “entitled” man who cannot believe that life isn’t always going to go his way.

In the summers, each family member descends upon the beach house and cottage in Maine, land that Daniel won in a card game. The subsequent cottage and then larger home came later. But the Kelleher family considers this their vacation home. They almost take it for granted, even as they meticulously divide up their time there. Each sibling has a month during the summer to really enjoy their “tenancy” there.

But what happens during this last summer in Maine that will change everything? What event for which Alice has decided to do penance will finally bring the lot of them into conflict and change their lives forever? Seeing how this conflict comes to a head and also visualizing it from each point of view brought forth the most palpable realization that, while family bonds are strong, they are also fragile. What connects family members is not always enough to withstand these tests. But maybe, despite their differences, this big Irish Catholic family, whose religion is another bond that sustains, even as it sometimes divides them, will find the key to what defines and ultimately saves them.

I loved the colorful characters and their stories in Maine. From the war torn years to the present, the effects of time and loss upon a family felt like something that could have happened in my own family. I could feel the tensions as the conflict built between the family members—and then, in one moment, see how forgiveness can transcend the pettiness. Even as I kept turning pages to see what would happen next, I also felt the sadness, the loss, as I knew that my time with the Kellehers would soon end. Five stars!