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Look at Me: A Novel by Jennifer Egan

Look at Me: A Novel (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Jennifer Egan (Author)

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1,1483310,685 (3.51)54
Title:Look at Me: A Novel
Authors:Jennifer Egan (Author)
Info:Anchor (2002), Edition: Reprint, 544 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:own but haven't read, read soon, national book award

Work details

Look At Me by Jennifer Egan (2001)

  1. 00
    Eat the Document: A Novel by Dana Spiotta (stevereads)
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    Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross (ainsleytewce)
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    The Temporary by Rachel Cusk (stevereads)
  4. 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)
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» See also 54 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
It's hard to truly describe my feelings about this book. It's not that Jennifer Egan isn't an excellent writer. Quite the opposite actually, she's very good at creating characters with depth and breadth. The problem, for me, was in the writing. This is a massively over-written book. Points that could have been wrapped up in a matter of sentences were drawn out and wordy. At points the writing felt so convoluted that I almost gave up. I feel like this book could have been much shorter and still been wonderfully done.

That being said, the book itself is rather compelling and the story is the major reason that I kept on reading. Egan dives into the human psyche, taking a look at how our outward appearance really affects the way we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others. She does an stellar job of creating three characters who show this in their own ways. Toeing the themes of attraction, obsession, and mental illness, Look At Me is much more intellectual than it seems on the surface.

The parallels between young Charlotte and older Charlotte were intriguing. I especially enjoyed taking a look inside the psyche of a teenage girl who feels like she is looking in from the outside. It made for a rough read at some points, and I'm sure there are people who will be offended by the choices she makes, but it was still an interesting read. My other gripe about this book was mainly Moose as a character. He is so broken, so mentally destroyed, that being in his head actually hurts. I could have done without him, honestly.

I'd recommend that if you do decide to tackle this lengthy read, you pass on the audio version. Although it did help me keep my characters separated by voice, the length of the book is actually exacerbated by the audio. About three quarters of the way through I was fairly ready to be done with Look At Me. Try this is you're a reader who enjoys contemporary reads that deal with real life issues and have deep characters. ( )
  roses7184 | Feb 5, 2019 |
I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad and Manhattan Beach so I decided to try one of Jennifer Eagan’s older books. It wasn’t nearly as good as her newer ones. It’s partly the writing but also the plot doesn’t age well. It was written in 2000, as reality TV was taking shape but social media hadn’t started yet. It revolves around a handful of characters disillusioned by their mid-west existence or minor characters who are 1-dimensional. Overall there were too many characters and not enough understanding of their motivations. ( )
1 vote strandbooks | Oct 17, 2018 |
Overall I liked this tale of identity and seeing clearly, but it was a little frustrating. Particularly with model Charlotte and her endless self-destruction. Everything from her drinking to her free-fall career plans. She really seemed to hate herself, her life and everything she’d done. She also seemed to act out with that hatred, too. The booze trick with the detective was pretty low. As was wishing he would take up the bottle again, which he does, much to my disappointment. Egan seemed to give more agency to young Charlotte than to old. Some characterize her seduction of Michael West as orchestrating her own sexual abuse, but it didn’t come off that way to me, and having been a teenage girl, I don’t see it that way either. Sure, some girls are abused and manipulated, but Charlotte wasn’t one of them.

West, Z or Aziz as he is known by turns, is a strange character. He lived in New York and still snow is new? Huh? I wasn’t sure what to make of him. At first he seemed just another thug trying to get away with a scam, but then he got a little religious, but it didn’t stick and when he just vanished at the end, I wondered if he’d been totally seduced by “the West” as he had been by Charlotte. Did he finally see himself clearly? We’ll never know and I’m ok with that. Not everything should be tied up in a bow.

The other character to mystify me was Moose. I couldn’t see his connection to anyone else and have no idea what purpose he served. After a while I skimmed a lot of his anguish and male twisting in the wind. I couldn’t understand his obscure obsessions or why he resorted to torturing his students with a bomb. It was bizarre. I did like the way his ramblings brought glass and its history into things; how it has affected the way humanity functions and sees itself, both literally and figuratively. His book about it, or maybe it was someone elses’, is something I would willingly read.

Young Charlotte on the other hand was real and I thought her writing and inner monologues rang quite true for an adolescent. That horrible division between wanting to be unique and wanting to fit in. No protective coloration. She had it in spades.

In the end, Egan splices all the narratives together without distinction - you were taken from one aspect to another in adjoining sentences and I’m not sure this was necessary. I didn’t see what it did that a more traditional spacing wouldn’t have done, other than make me read things over again. And all of the musings on terrorism and especially the failed attack on the world trade center must have freaked Egan out a little since this was published just after the successful attacks. Also the whole thing with the “Personal Space” project. Jeez. It reeked of My Space, but had none of the prescience of Facebook. Of course, none of us knew that then. Except a few. Kind of creepy in a way. ( )
  Bookmarque | Dec 24, 2017 |
too confusing ( )
  Robbib | Dec 16, 2017 |
Normally not my kind of book, but beautiful. Love the characters ( )
  joanalau | Sep 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (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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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:44 -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.

(summary from another edition)

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