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Look At Me by Jennifer Egan
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Look At Me (2001)

by Jennifer Egan

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915239,598 (3.46)46
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  1. 00
    The Temporary by Rachel Cusk (stevereads)
  2. 00
    Remainder by Tom McCarthy (kseniyat)
    kseniyat: Remainder has the same tone of surreality that Look at Me takes on. The plots are very different, but there is a similar meditation on appearance vs. substance, and its sometimes surreal consequences, that drive much of Look at Me. The sense of humor of these two others also have something in common.… (more)
  3. 00
    Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross (ainsleytewce)
  4. 01
    Veronica by Mary Gaitskill (ainsleytewce)
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Ever wanted to read a philosophical novel with all the philosophy taken out? Here's your beast. I'd thought, since she's been in the news for a recent novel, that Egan was alive and well, but this novel makes it quite obvious that she died sometime around 1914, and is in fact a Victorian novelist disguised as our contemporary. Why is it obvious?

* slightly poetic but otherwise totally banal prose style.
* huge numbers of plots that never actually get joined together.
* fascination with characters, but no way of actually distinguishing them other than altering their ages and genders (i.e., they all sound exactly the same).
* at least twice as long as it should have been.
* obsession with social and intellectual issues, but in a purely personal manner that, ironically, never does much more than skim the surface of said issues.
* silly ideas about seeing people's 'true selves.'

Yes: this is a Victorian novel, written about what we think of as a uniquely twentieth century problem, the obsession with images and appearances.

More specifically, for the first 100 pages, the first-person narrative of Charlotte the model is really boring, and the third person narrative of Charlotte the young girl is great. For the next 300 pages, this is so completely inverted that I almost skipped whole chapters to get back to the actual story, as young Charlotte's plot blossomed out into a whole bunch of useless, shit flowers (her brother has cancer! her uncle is crazy! her friends are teenagers!). Yes, there's all sorts of neat, foreheadsmackingly obvious parallels between the Charlottes (they both relate to people only through sex! they both live/d in Rockford! they know some of the same people! they both alter their appearance! they're both involved with a man who might be a terrorist but actually appears to have decided to direct movies instead!), but otherwise there's no connection between them. In other words: one story, told twice. Not fun.

The breathless praise this book received suggests that people really like reading about things that are just about to happen, and that's fair. But I was deeply disappointed: this could have been a monster. As it is, it's period piece, but one that makes me think I ought to keep reading her novels, because she clearly *could* write the monster. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
liked the bits about shadow selves ( )
  poolspy | Aug 21, 2013 |
It's almost impossible to read this book with any sort of objective eye in the year 2013. It was written in the six years leading up to 2001 and released a week after 9/11. To've read it in, say, August 2001 - that would be the ideal. Because it isn't just the 9/11 thing that is prescient but rather the entire novel. Imagine a world without Facebook, without Twitter, without iPhones, without any of it. Then, imagine an author feeling those inevitable realities, maybe not in those forms but in their most basic thought-stages, and trying to express what creeping rot-of-the-soul lay underneath the feel-good 90s.

This is the sort of novel that should make you want to write a paper (or several) just to parse all of the thoughts that it inspires. The only thing? It's a bit rocky at times, a bit too long, a bit... dare I say unfinished? It still feels like it never quite got where it wanted to go, although that aspired position was hands and heads above where just about anyone else can reach. You can see the seeds of Ms. Egan's later, more daring works here - and for that alone, it's well worth reading.


More at RB: http://wp.me/pGVzJ-GG ( )
  drewsof | Jul 9, 2013 |
After reading "A Visit from the Goon Squad" and "The Keep", I expected this Egan novel to be much better than it was. This story is about a model who must undergo facial reconstruction after car accident, which leads others to not recognize her and interferes with her ability to get modeling work. Charlotte was already 35 when the accident occurred, however, and her work options had already been dwindling before the accident. To make the story more complicated, a separate character (also named Charlotte) is introduced. This teen Charlotte is trying to find her purpose through relationships with adult males, one who mentors her (her mentally ill uncle Moose) and another who develops an intimate relationship with her. These two storylines remain disparate through almost the entire book, with another unknown character "Z" who potentially ties the storylines together. The story also integrates the emergence of a social networking theme (the book was published in 2001, before social media became commonplace), which furthers the theme of narcissistic exposure and recreating one's identity.

I found this book slow and unnecessarily burdened down by excessive detail. I was halfway through and seriously considered giving up on this novel because it didn't draw me in. I finally finished it, but I can't say it was worth it. I love Egan's other works but it is hard to believe this one was a National Book Award Finalist. ( )
  voracious | Jun 4, 2013 |
Well-written. Very...late twentieth-century, for various handwavey reasons; it just did not hit me where I live. ( )
  cricketbats | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
A critic could write a long essay on the novel's sophisticated treatment of perception, image, media and identity. Luckily for you, I won't. What more people have found exciting here is the uncanny way in which many of Egan's futuristic visions have come true.
 
Less pedantic than its message would indicate, the book reads like both a mystery and a romance novel, like a Raymond Chandler detective story and, at times, a Judy Blume teenage-problem book. Propelled by plot, peppered with insights, enlivened by quirkily astute characterizations, and displaying an impressive prescience about our newly altered world, “Look at Me” is more nuanced than it first appears. Ultimately, it takes us beyond what we see and hints at truths we have only just begun to understand.
added by Nickelini | editSalon, Amy Reiter (Nov 14, 2001)
 
Given the sorry state of so much current fiction, the appearance of a novel with a narrative style that seems fresh, accurate, clear and inventive-especially when combined with a gift for observation and the delineation of character-is truly an occasion for calling up one's friends to announce that the novel has once again survived the latest dire predictions of its demise.
 
Egan reminds us too often that her philosophical concern is with appearance: how what is seen defines what is. But any impatience with overwriting and plot manipulations is overwhelmed by the ever-present page-turning energy.

A surprisingly satisfying stew of philosophy, social commentary, and storytelling.
added by Nickelini | editKirkus (Aug 15, 2001)
 
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We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.

--Ulysses, James Joyce
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After the accident, I became less visible.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385721358, Paperback)

At the start of this edgy and ambitiously multilayered novel, a fashion model named Charlotte Swenson emerges from a car accident in her Illinois hometown with her face so badly shattered that it takes eighty titanium screws to reassemble it. She returns to New York still beautiful but oddly unrecognizable, a virtual stranger in the world she once effortlessly occupied.

With the surreal authority of a David Lynch, Jennifer Egan threads Charlotte’s narrative with those of other casualties of our infatuation with the image. There’s a deceptively plain teenaged girl embarking on a dangerous secret life, an alcoholic private eye, and an enigmatic stranger who changes names and accents as he prepares an apocalyptic blow against American society. As these narratives inexorably converge, Look at Me becomes a coolly mesmerizing intellectual thriller of identity and imposture.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:48 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Model Charlotte Swenson returns to Manhattan after recovering from a devastating car accident in her Illinois hometown. She finds that she can't restart her career and floats invisibly through the New York fashion world.

» see all 3 descriptions

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