a bookclique pick by Jessica Flaxman

Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach is a book I’ve been waiting a long time to read. She started it over 15 years ago, just after 9/11, but couldn’t finish it. In the interim, she wrote some other amazing books — The Keep and A Visit from the Good Squad. She wrote Black Box, a complete and unforgettable narrative made up of tweets. But all along, she was puzzling over what became Manhattan Beach, researching the time period — pre-war Manhattan — and revising the pages that, she says in a recent New Yorker article, made her sick to her stomach when she read them.

Manhattan Beach is a compelling mystery, a vividly depicted historical novel, a feminist bildungsroman. It charts the course of Anna Kerrigan, woman diver. Anna’s father, an affiliate of an underground crime network, disappears when Anna is young, and she spends her life balancing her grief and her certainty that he isn’t really gone. The book opens on the day that Anna and her father visit a wealthy man at his home on the beach and Anna first sees the sea. Her response is to kick off her shoes and stockings, to put her feet right into the water.

Like a young Edna Pontellier, Anna’s desire to dive into the unknown is a permanent fixture of her identity after that day. Anna’s relationship with ambition and her fearless exploration of the ocean’s vast territories, as well as her willingness to plunge the depths of her own heart, put her in the rarefied air of other great female protagonists. I expect to see many beach-goers reading this novel next summer, if they haven’t already read it this winter as an antidote to all kinds of cold.

Jessica Flaxman

Jessica Flaxman

Many years ago, Jessica took an English teaching job at Collegiate School in New York. She replaced an English teacher named Laura Dickerman. At first, theirs was a rivalry, but not too long after that, they became the best of friends. Jessica created bookclique in 2018 and recruited as many of her English teaching friends; students; and writers as she could to the collaborative project of promoting new books to the world. Laura is now the editor of bookclique, bringing all of her customary brilliance and energy to the shared work of celebrating books and book culture.