The Pulitzer Prize-winning author talks about her new novel, "Manhattan Beach" and what it tells us about the United States todayby Steve Bloomfield / December 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
Jennifer Egan is one of America’s most fascinating modern authors. Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer prize in 2011, was as unconventional as it was moving—each chapter switched focus to another character and another time, flitting between the past, present and future, without ever losing its emotional power.
Her new book, Manhattan Beach, is more orthodox, but no less affecting. Set in New York in the 1930s and early 1940s it follows the lives of Anna Kerrigan, the first female diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Dexter Styles, a gangster, against a backdrop of America’s transformation into a super-power.
Prospect’s Steve Bloomfield met Egan last month in London to discuss her new book, why she writes, and the state of America following the election of Donald Trump and the recent wave of sexual harassment revelations.
Let’s start with Trump. What do you think about your country right now?
Egan: The thing I’ve always been fascinated by about America is the self-inventive aspect of Americans, which in a way is really wonderful—this feeling [that] anyone can do anything, just say “you can do it” and then do it.
And in a way that’s really wonderful, that’s the Gatsby story, the ultra-American narrative. But there’s an ugly underside to that, which is those same comments but in a different tone. “I can do whatever I want, fuck you get out of the way. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you want I’m going to run over you and that’s American.” And that’s Donald Trump. He’s a very American character, which is incredibly uncomfortable as an American.
There is such a fine line between saying, “I can do anything” and saying, “Fuck you, I can do anything.” He’s a thug. He’s that sort of bullying, selfish American who wants what they want and doesn’t give a damn what it costs anyone else. That is a streak in our culture, a big one.
Did you think it was as big a streak as it turned out to be this time last year?
Egan: Was I aware that there were such numbers of people who would elect someone like that? I guess I really wasn’t. He’s so outrageous, he’s so clearly incompetent to hold that office. I didn’t think that people would…