"A Visit From The Goon Squad," the 2011 novel that won Jennifer Egan the Pulitzer Prize, hops back and forth in time and perspective. But her latest novel, "Manhattan Beach," is firmly rooted in a specific time and place: the world of the Brooklyn Navy Yard of the 1930s and 1940s. The novel focuses on a woman named Anna Kerrigan, who works at the Yard and eventually becomes the first female Navy diver.

Egan stopped by Boston Public Radio to discuss her new novel and her writing process. An impartial transcript of their conversation follows.

MARGERY EAGAN:  Give people a bit of an idea of what "Manhattan Beach" is about. 

JENNIFER EGAN: It's set in the 30s and 40s in New York, and it follows a woman named Anna Kerrigan, who is 19 and one of the thousands of women who worked in industry during WWII. She works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and ultimately becomes a diver. It's about her father, Eddie Kerrigan, who is sort of part of the Irish waterfront world, and a man named Dexter Styles, who is an organized crime boss. Their paths intersect more than once in different ways over time.

JIM BRAUDE: Your level of expertise on everything from rescues to diving is immense. Then I listen to your NPR interview this morning in which you said essentially you didn't know anything about any of these things when you jumped in. What was the lure of this subject matter to you if it was all alien to you?

EGAN: That's such a good question, it's one of those things I only can try to analyze later. I really work so instinctively that I just have an urge toward a certain atmosphere, a time and a place. I was very interested in New York during World War Two. That really dates from 9/11, when New York really felt like a war zone overnight. I also, frankly, was thinking about the trajectory of American global power. 9/11 was clearly an event in that trajectory. We're still dealing with the ramifications of that. I was interested in the original forming of that power at the time when it coalesced. New York during the war led me to the waterfront because the port of New York was incredibly important because the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the largest builder and repairer of Allied ships during the war. Then the waterfront led me to diving. When I say 'led me,' I felt a kind of excitement I couldn't explain about these things and a desire to just live among them and spend my life getting to know them for a certain period.

BRAUDE: Was getting to know them as exciting as the prospect of getting to know them?

EGAN: Initially, it was not! Initially, it was very hard because I knew nothing, and writing in a state of knowing nothing for some years...the level of incompetence troubled me. Once I crossed over into feeling comfortable and knowing enough that I could move around in the material, it really felt like time travel. It was really thrilling. It was like being able to fly.

EAGAN: I didn't think of novelists doing as much reporting as you did for this piece. You write about trying on this diving suitbecause Anna was working as a diver. What was this Mark V diving suit?

EGAN: That was the diving suit anyone would recognize as sort of the iconic suit, with the spherical metal helmet, the big boots, the lead belt. It weighs 200 pounds. If you dreamed about a diver, that's what you would see in your dream. That's what was current heavy gear until the 1960s. I fell in with a group of Army diving veterans, and they meet every other year and one of the things they offer at their reunions is a chance for the guys — it was all men there — to wear the old equipment and dive in a tank. I've never even scuba dived, so no one was putting me in a tank, but they did dress me in the Mark V.

EGAN: Could you walk?

EGAN: I took, I think, one step. It was very, very painful.

EAGAN: Considering you wrote about someone who was, as you said, in a very male profession, I wonder what you've thought these last few weeks. We've been talking about all this sexual harassment of women in male professions. Did that resonate with you?

EGAN: It's fascinating to think about it in light of my research. For example, women had never worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before the war. Then they were beckoned in — the Rosie the Riveter campaign was a propaganda campaign to get women interested in working in industry. [When] women came in, initially, they were not allowed on ships, which is pretty incredible when you think about it — this is a Navy yard. They were welding and riveting and plumbing, but they couldn't go on ships because there was this fear that men and women together in these small spaces would result in bad things.

Ultimately, they had to let the women on the ships because they needed them there. They were more limber, they were slighter, they could fit into the tight spaces of ships actually much better than men. But what it really speaks to was that, on the one hand, was discrimination, and on the other, there was a supposition that men could not be trusted and women had to be protected. What strikes me now is we don't have any of those protections anymore. That appears as exclusion — which it is — and yet a lot of the things they were worried about back in 1942 are still going on. This threatening atmosphere in the workplace clearly still exists.

Click the audio player above to hear the interview. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.