Left alone in a battlefield
Post-World War II, American literature has acquired a unique distinction of works with unrealistic and impossible plots, laden with passion, crime and...
Post-World War II, American literature has acquired a unique distinction of works with unrealistic and impossible plots, laden with passion, crime and porn. As the war-torn USA headed to be the economic superpower in jet speed, the land of liberty witnessed high standard of living driven by consumerism, yet remained a mass society with high-end technology. There is ideological crisis, hurt, racial grudge, social inequality, crimes of passion and whatnot.
Works of fictions, just like their films and TV serials, reflected their creative bankruptcy with too full of paradox, parody and paranoia. And they have given us most ludicrous works aplenty. And at a point when an average reader begins to feel hopeless, comes Jennifer Egan, with her works that make you fall head over heel in love with American literature again!
Set in the war-torn America, ‘Manhattan Beach’ is a touching story of a girl, woven dexterously into fine texture with a lot of moments that make you feel the pangs of being lonely, deceived, chained and often injured.
Young Anna Kerrigan has fond memories of spending her evening with father Edward Kerrigan when she was 12-year-old on Manhattan beach the day her papa went to meet his old friend Dexter Styles. Life was cheerful with her little sister Lydia who was bedridden and could not move without help and a mother who was not fussy, but very caring.
Everything looked normal until one day, when Anna’s father leaves their home not to come back again. After a couple of years of constant wait, Anna’s mother, beautiful Agnes, tells her not to wait for her papa anymore.
And now left to tend for herself, Anna takes up a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, usually done by boys. At a time when girls are not encouraged to do jobs, Anna dares to plunge into boys’ forte. She goes a step further, turns to be a diver, an adept one for that.
After Agnes leaves for her paternal home, Anna decides to stay back, makes friends with Nell, whose photograph once Anna saw in the Brooklyn Eagle. She recognises the love laden looks of her homosexual boss, Mr Charlie Voss, and dares to go to Dexter’s bar.
Devastated with the death of little Lydia, Anna wants to trace her father down. Well aware of Dexter Style’s connection with her papa during his ‘union days’, Anna who befriends the lawbreaker, tries to investigate into the mysterious disappearance of Eddie Kerrigan.
One not-so-fine day, Anna copulates with Dexter, a man of her father’s age and an old friend of her father. During her lone journey through thick and thin, she encounters myriad problems. But she is strong-willed, dedicated and daredevil.
Realising that she has got pregnant during her eventful journey, she decides not to quit. When she comes across a newspaper headline – ‘Missing nightclub owner found dead, bullet-ridden body left near abandoned racetrack’ – it was too late.
After finding a fictional father for her child – Lieutenant Charlie Smith – supposed to be a war hero, Anna moves to California, to live a dignified life. Agnes joins Red Cross to treat wounded soldiers.
It was not too late for Eddie Kerrigan to realise. The story comes to an end when Kerrigan feels the love of her daughter Anna.
She was surprised to find him watching the fog. It rolled in fast: a wild, volatile silhouette against the phosphorescent sky. It reared up over the land like a tidal wave about to break, or the aftermath of a silent, distant explosion. Without thinking, she took her father’s hand. “Here it comes,” she said.
The story reaches its conclusion. Jennifer Egan’s ‘Manhattan Beach’ is quite a thrilling read. Packed with emotion and poignant with deep dark personal experiences, the novel begs to stand aloof in the otherwise highly contaminated contemporary American literature with the warmth of family bondages and personal commitments taking the central stage.
Jennifer Egan who has authored six books won Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives with her husband and two sons in Brooklyn. If one is asked to rate, six out of ten will be mine.