Manhattan Beach has all the components of my favorite novels–great story, including gangsters, strong women and lots of surprises, taking place in a historical setting and just beautifully written.
The book opens with Eddie Kerrigan and his 11 year old daughter, Anna, visiting the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles. Anna describes her father’s job as “pass[ing] greetings, or good wishes, between union men and other men who were their friends. These salutations included an envelope, sometimes a package, that he would deliver or receive casually–you wouldn’t notice unless you were paying attention.” Mr. Styles, who encourages his business associates to include family members at his home meetings, engages in a vaguer type of business, including running numerous nightclubs. It’s 1934.
Eddie answers to John Dunellen, who conducts his informal business at Sonny’s West Shore Bar and Grill. When meeting with Dunellen, Eddie observes that “he was surrounded, as always, by a gaggle of sycophants, suppliants, and minor racketeers, delivering a cut in exchange for his blessing.”
Eddie’s wife, Agnes, had been in the follies prior to marrying Eddie. Their daughter Lydia was born with some sort of condition which prevents her from walking, talking or sitting up. Lydia is beautiful and much loved by her mother and Anna, but Eddie struggles with having a child with a severe impairment. Eddie’s somewhat promiscuous sister, Brianne, comes in and out of the story.
Dexter Styles is a creation– his name, his persona and his life. His wife, Harriet, comes from a well to do family. Her father, Arthur Berringer, had been a rear admiral in the navy and gone into banking. Berringer accepts Dexter into the family’s life despite his questionable vocation, advising him early on that Harriet must be “his one and only.” Dexter admires his father in law but clearly underestimates him. Through the Dexter family we learn that in certain worlds, everyone is somehow connected to everyone else.
Three years after the Manhattan Beach meeting with Dexter Styles, Eddie disappears, leaving Anna (then age 14) and Agnes to care for Lydia. Five years later, Anna goes to work in a naval yard plant, measuring. When Anna asks her boss what they are measuring, she is told “That information isn’t necessary to do your job…”. Ultimately, Anna decides she wants to become a diver, in pursuit of which she runs into numerous obstacles due to her gender. But ultimately Anna does become a diver. These jobs set off a whole series of events which radically change Anna’s life.
Anna meets Nell, who leads a wild type of life and together they go to a nightclub, where an older and more mature Anna again meets Dexter Styles, who has no recollection of ever having met her. Somehow, he becomes involved in her life.
The novel is filled with twists and turns and all kinds of adventure. It is a joy to read. You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here or in electronic version by clicking here.