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Look at Me (2001)

by Jennifer Egan

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1,4084013,351 (3.54)64
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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 teenage 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.

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… (more)
  1. 00
    Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross (ainsleytewce)
  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
    The Temporary by Rachel Cusk (stevereads)
  4. 00
    Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta (stevereads)
  5. 01
    Veronica by Mary Gaitskill (ainsleytewce)
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» See also 64 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Really really good, she's staying to get into her own writing style, only four stars because I'm comparing it to Candy House and Goon Squad which were so remarkable. Characters were much more real and believable than Manhattan Beach, complex and human. ( )
  RaynaPolsky | Apr 23, 2024 |
Content warning: This review has tons of spoilers, and mentions rape and underage relationships.

This is going to be a pretty unstructured and ranty sort of review, sorry about that, but I just wanted to blab my thoughts on this book.
First, I thought the writing style was really the only great thing about this book. Egan has a very sharp yet descriptive way of writing and I truly enjoyed that. The only other thing I liked about this book was the snappy, snarky bits of dialogue, mostly from Charlotte Swenson. (The 2 stars I'm giving to this book are purely for the writing) But that was later ruined for me because Charlotte is a god-awful human and I went from really liking her to basically despising her. And it's not because of her "lying" personality that she brags about; it's because she's written as getting a happy ending after doing all kinds of awful things, including but not limited to raping Detective Holladay. That was seriously a f-ed up scene and I'm pissed that Charlotte got to have her happy ending after all that. I know there are people who will argue that her ending wasn't happy because she had to "sell" her identity, but listen: she sold her name willingly and eagerly, gots a TON of money from it, and got to start her life over, which is something she really wanted. She got to escape all the celebrity of her life, and for Charlotte, that was a happy ending.
Additionally, the awful relationship between the other young Charlotte and Michael West is never condemned or taken care of. I understand that Charlotte was the one who pursued the relationship and wanted to have sex, but that still doesn't excuse the fact that West never has to face the consequences of his actions. He literally gets to skip off to LA and go make movies or whatever, and there are no repercussions for him.
Okay and lastly, wtf was up with Moose? At first, I kind of felt for him, but as his narrative went on it just seemed to spiral out of control and made less and less sense. I read "Look at Me" in a college class of mine and lots of people were going on about how "deep" and "thought-provoking" Moose was, but I'm like ???? No ??? He's a pretentious dipwad who thinks he's smarter than everyone else? I'm also super over his whole "oooohh, I don't use technology so ClEArLY I'm Smarter and more Wise than all you dummies". lol give me a break.
The only character I ended up caring even a little about what Ellen, and she didn't even get a proper ending to her narrative! -_-
okay, that's the end of my rambling review. I originally just passively gave this book 3-stars but thought about it again and realized how annoying and problematic it was. Would not recommend this book. ( )
  deborahee | Feb 23, 2024 |
As with A Visit from the Goon Squad, I find myself wanting to re-read Look at Me in order to piece together the interlocking pieces of the narrative. It's very interesting to compare the two books in terms of how expansive Look at Me is in comparison to the very concise, almost lapidary, Visit from the Goon Squad.

I wonder if Egan had ambitions to write a Great American Novel with this one. ( )
  monicaberger | Jan 22, 2024 |
I found it difficult to read, but fascinating surreal story of two Charlottes??!! ( )
  ChrisGreenDog | Dec 2, 2023 |
Seems to be satirizing the culture of the modeling world, but I found the plot twists over-the-top, particularly the “recreation” for film of the accident, ( )
  Audacity88 | Jan 18, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (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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In Memory
D.E.E.
W.D.K.
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After the accident, I became less visible.
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

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 teenage 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.

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