Finished: March 3, 2018
My review and rating – as for all my reports – reflects how I react to the book and should not be seen some sort of objective score. I did not love this book but it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 – so obviously the experts see it differently from me.
When I first picked out a couple of Jennifer Egan’s novels to read I decided to start with Manhattan Beach because the structure of this one sounded daunting – if flashes back and forth from past to present to future focusing on different characters of a loosely bound group. Additionally the point of view switches between first, second, and third person. So, you have to be on your mental toes while reading – I wasn’t.
The two main characters are Bernie – a music producer and Sasha – his one time assistant. The books starts with Sasha then jumps to other people who know her or Bernie. It is like a set of short stories rather than a novel – except the chapters all revolve around the two main characters and couldn’t stand on their own. In other words – exactly like a book of short stories except they aren’t.
When one of the characters – who earlier tried to commit suicide – is high he points to the central point of the book:
“…and the question is, which one is really ‘you’, the one saying and doing whatever it is, or the one watching?” [Loc 2718]
As we work our way through the story, that is our job: which version of this person is the “real” version. But of course we change through our lives and we are the accumulation of all our history.
We read a couple of direct references to the goon squad; I’ll leave it to you to read so I won’t spoil it here.
This book really never grabbed me; as a result I’d put it aside for a few days and when I picked it up again the next chapter was in a different time with different characters and a different point of view. As a result I had to keep going back to remind myself who is/was who. My advice is dive in and swim through it quickly. That way it will likely hang together more may resonate better. The stories and characters themselves are interesting and the writing saves this from being a two star book – for me. The story about La Doll – Dolly’s – fall, comeback, and retreat is especially good.