Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Scribner) is a many-faceted historical novel set on New York City’s 1930s and ’40s waterfront and encompassing a family drama; gangsters; innovations at the Brooklyn Naval Yard; a shipwreck in U-boat-infested waters; and the story of an independent, unconventional woman. The insightful and imaginative novels below also set the adventures of intrepid individuals within a richly nuanced social context.
Careers for Women
by Joanna Scott
Maggie begins her career in New York City in 1958, awed and intimidated by Mrs. J, the exacting director of the Port Authority’s public-relations department. Mrs. J also mentors Pauline, a single mother with a special-needs daughter, and their stories intertwine in a suspenseful drama of profound dimensions as Scott delves into the struggles of women in a sexist world and the human and environmental costs of greed.
When the World Was Young
by Elizabeth Gaffney
In a nuanced novel set in Brooklyn Heights during WWII and the Korean War, Gaffney tells the story of smart and earnest tomboy Wally, who worships Wonder Woman and whose aptitude for science is manifest in an ardor for ants. With her father serving in the Pacific, an unbalanced mother, and a stern grandmother, Wally depends on Loretta, their African American housekeeper, for guidance and love.
World Gone By
by Dennis Lehane
This is the concluding volume in Lehane’s historical trilogy about crime boss Joe Coughlin, following The Given Day (2008) and Live by Night (2012). All three will appeal to readers taken with the gangster story within Egan’s novel. Here it’s the 1940s, wartime, and Coughlin is happy to step down with hopes of living in peace, but someone wants him dead, and the past is not so easily forgotten. Over three volumes, Lehane has turned the tragic tale of a man and his family in good times and bad into a complex saga about passion and crime, living and dying.
Donna Seaman is Adult Books Editor for Booklist, a recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, a member of the Content Leadership Team for the American Writers Museum, and a frequent presenter at literary events and programs. Seaman’s new book is Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists.