Jennifer Egan was on an episode of a podcast I listen to called Nerdette and it turns out one of the hosts of that show is a huge Egan fan. I had never read anything by her before, but after listening to her talk about the inspiration for this book and the amount of research she put into, I was intrigued enough to try the book out. It’s a pretty long book and I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it, so I got the audiobook from my trusty library.
The book centers around Anna Kerrigan and her father, Eddie. We meet them during the Great Depression when Eddie takes his daughter to Dexter Styles’s house for a meeting. Anna plays with Dexter’s daughter, who’s a year or two younger, while the men talk business.
Fast forward about 10 years and Eddie has disappeared and Anna is working in New York’s Naval Yard for the war effort. She doesn’t know what happened to her dad, but her mom thinks he left because he couldn’t handle the fact that Anna’s younger sister is disabled – she’s incapable of walking or even moving herself and her vocabulary is extremely limited.
But the story switches back and forth from Anna to Dexter, a local gangster trying to work his way up the gangster ladder. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Eddie got involved in the gang, got in over his head, and Dexter had to take him out.
While we’re learning all this, we’re also watching Anna jump through sexist hoops to become the first female diver, a job that was even more dangerous then than it is now. Meanwhile, she befriends another girl who works at the naval yard and she convinces Anna to go out to clubs with her and her boyfriend. She gets a date for Anna, too, but Anna runs into Dexter and the two are immediately drawn to each other. She recognizes him from the day she went to his house with her father, but he doesn’t recognize her. She lies about her name, but eventually reveals the truth about who she is and who her father was. She demands to know where her father is, so Dexter takes her to the spot in the ocean where he dumped Eddie’s body.
Except Eddie isn’t dead. When Dexter drugged him, he only pretended to drink it and pass out. When they dumped him in the ocean, he got himself loose (since they thought he was unconscious, they hadn’t seen a reason to tie him up tight), stayed under water until it was safe, then swam to safety. He’s been traveling the world ever since to stay out of the gang’s way. Eventually, he manages to reunite with Anna, who by that time is living in California with her baby she had by Dexter. She’s not really ready to let the father who abandoned her and her family back into her life, but they’re making strides in that direction by the time the book ends.
It’s well written, I just didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters and I didn’t find Dexter’s ending to be believable. I especially didn’t care to hear about Eddie’s travels, especially since Egan kept from the reader for most of the book exactly why he was traveling and not with his family. It definitely gave the impression (intentional, I’m sure) that he had abandoned them because he couldn’t take it any more, and that’s not a character I whose travels I can care about.
That said, I did like the audiobook. They used a different narrator for each main character, which made the scenes between Anna and Dexter easier to understand. Egan switched POV between those two characters within the scenes and that’s the kind of thing that would lose me without another voice taking over the narration to clue me into the fact that the POV had just changed.
What did you guys read this week? Anything else that didn’t live up to the hype? I want to hear all about it in the comments!