A Most Exquisite Scene


 I am reading Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, for two reasons: 1) the book blurb grabbed me, and 2) it’s my book club’s current selection. Ordinarily I wouldn’t write a blog post about a book until I’ve finished it, but I wanted to share a most exquisite passage, just a piece of a moving scene, and my take-away.

Excerpt: “Hello, Liddy,” he said stiffly. “How was your day, kiddo?”

It was hard not to sound mocking, knowing she couldn’t answer. When Lydia did talk, in her way, it was senseless babble–echolalia, the doctors called it. And yet it felt strange not to talk to her. What else could one do with an eight-year-old girl who couldn’t sit up on her own, much less walk? Pet and greet her: that took all of fifteen seconds. And then? Agnes would be watching, hungry for a show of affection toward their younger daughter. Eddie knelt beside Lydia and kissed her cheek.

The Take-away: There’s much more to the full scene that reveals Eddie’s conflicted feelings for his daughter and the deeper family relationships and foreshadows a plot point. I am struck by Eddie’s struggle, his effort to connect with Lydia and falling short.

That said, I would not have reached this beautiful scene had the novel not been a book club read. I (I should say we because Tim and I are reading it together) slogged through the first chapter or so wondering why we should keep reading. I call the style “a day in the life of” because it relates characters’ actions and interactions without a sense of purpose or intrigue. What does Anna, the twelve-year-old protagonist, want? What does Eddie, her father, want?

There’s a hint of something sinister in Eddie’s meeting with Mr. Styles, a rich man who  owns nightclubs. Now, that’s interesting. But here’s where I have a big problem. We’re seeing things through Eddie’s eyes, yet he doesn’t let us in on facts that will come out later, such as this meeting is not on the up-and-up, and, oh, Styles is a mobster. I know this doesn’t bother some readers, but for my part, I find it a major cheat.

I should add that my go-to writing guru, Donald Maass, loved some of what I didn’t about chapter one. He wrote a piece entitled “When Worlds Collide” for Writer Unboxed in which he cites Anna’s experience at the home of the super-rich Mr. Styles.

I’m reminded once again that readers are not a homogenous group.

Your thoughts. Leave a comment.


Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last. and it always tells the truth.

–Margaret Atwood

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