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Look at Me Hardcover – September 18, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Equipped with an arresting premise, Egan's hip and haunting second novel (after The Invisible Circus) gets off to a promising start. Thirty-five-year-old Charlotte, a thoroughly unpleasant Manhattan-based model who escaped the middle-class nothingness of her upbringing in Rockford, Ill., then spent her adult life getting by on appearances, literally loses her face in a catastrophic car accident back in Rockford. As Charlotte's rebuilt face heals and she goes unrecognized at the restaurants and nightclubs that were her old haunts, she must grapple with the lives and losses she has tried to outrun a fractured childhood friendship, the fiancé she betrayed and "Z," a suspicious man from an unidentified Middle Eastern country. Anthony Halliday, an attractive, tormented private investigator, interrupts Charlotte's isolation. Hired by a pair of nightclub owners to track down Z because he absconded with a pile of their money, Halliday carries the scent of romance, but he also kicks off a chain of introductions that bizarrely lands Charlotte in the "mirrored room" of great fame. She is reconnected with her past at the same time that she becomes part of a brave new Internet world, where identity itself is a consumable commodity. Oddly, this narrative alternates with that of her old friend Ellen's daughter (also named Charlotte), whose life in Rockford centers around two older men. Though expertly constructed and seductively knowing, Egan's tale is marred by the overblown trendiness at its core. Charlotte (the model, who progresses from horrid to just bearable by the end) and the others come to the same realization: a world ruled by the consumerist values bred by mass production and mass information is "a world constructed from the outside in." The Buddha said it better. National advertising; author tour. (Sept. 18)and Harper's, and The Invisible Circus was recently made into a film featuring Cameron Diaz.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Charlotte, a successful thirtyish model, miraculously survives a horrific car crash near Rockford, IL, her despised hometown. However, reconstructive facial surgery alters her appearance irrevocably. Within the fashion world, where one's look is one's self, she has become literally unrecognizable. Seeking a new image, Charlotte stumbles into a tantalizing Internet experiment that may both save and damn her. Back in Rockford, another Charlotte, this one a plain, unhappy teenager, wonders who she really is. Her search for self drives her to extremes; she maintains a tortuous sexual liaison with a mysterious high school math teacher and takes on an eerie scholar-disciple role opposite her unbalanced Uncle Moose, who is obsessed by his unorthodox theories about the Industrial Revolution. The intersections of these and the novel's other intriguing characters raise tantalizing questions about identity and reality in contemporary American culture. Egan continues to fulfill the literary promise she showed in her previous fiction, The Invisible Circus and Emerald City. Recommended for most collections.
- Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty P.L., VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (September 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385502761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385502764
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago, where her paternal grandfather was a police commander and bodyguard for President Truman during his visits to that city. She was raised in San Francisco and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and St. John's College, Cambridge, in England. In those student years she did a lot of traveling, often with a backpack: China, the former USSR, Japan, much of Europe, and those travels became the basis for her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and her story collection, Emerald City. She came to New York in 1987 and worked an array of wacky jobs while learning to write: catering at the World Trade Center; joining the word processing pool at a midtown law firm; serving as the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones, an OSS spy-turned-Spanish countess (by marriage), who wrote a series of bestsellers about her spying experiences and famous friends.
Egan has published short stories in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta and McSweeney's. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, came out in 1995 and was released as a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Her second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2001, and her third, The Keep, was a national bestseller. Also a journalist, Egan has written many cover stories for the New York Times Magazine on topics ranging from young fashion models to the secret online lives of closeted gay teens. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.

Photo credit Pieter M. Van Hattem

Customer Reviews

I'm sure others will disagree, but I don't like big changes like this.
Joseph Levens
While I found that there was a little too much going on with the plot in this book, Egan does get credit for being a wonderful writer.
Diane
And even though the story itself is gripping, it is Egan's writing style and command of the language that are most notable.
wyly obrien

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Paul Hixenbaugh on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This novel far and away exceeded my expectations. I liked the idea of a novel about a person learning to live with a new face. I expected something quiet and thoughtful like Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler. "Look At Me" was a lot more than that, while still keeping the emotional appeal of those authors' books. At the beginning of the book, Charlotte, a model at the end of her career and going down, is in a horrible car accident. As she begins her recuperation, her path crosses with her former best friend's daughter, also named Charlotte. For most of the book, the two Charlottes' stories mirror each other. As one Charlotte learns to live her life over again, the younger Charlotte is discovering life and love for the first time. Both are dealing with issues related to their looks and esteem..."old" Charlotte has a new face that is slightly different than before, and young Charlotte must deal with her average looks and an unfair reputation as an easy girl. Each has a man in her life who is not what he seems. The mystery that ties them together is unexpected and really suspenseful. I was up until early in the morning reading "Look At Me", and was practically foaming at the mouth by the time I reached the climactic scene where everything was explained. Egan's prose is beautiful and literate, but without the denseness that made "The Invisible Circus" a slow-going read at the beginning. "Look At Me" zips along without abandoning intelligent thought and without taking the obvious turns so prevalent in mainstream fiction. Take a chance on this book...you'll love it!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Katrina T. Wisner on September 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers have noted, the premise for this book will draw you in. As I read it, however, I kept asking myself, Why is this has-been model's story all that exceptional since it sounds like her career was over anyway? This Internet venture is not believable! What was the point of the Anthony Halliday and Irene Maitlock characters-who get quite a bit of page time? Why even write about Ricky's cancer and his experience with the older skate kids? Why bother with Pluto the homeless man? These characters are all interesting, but in the end seem just a distracting tangent from the main story. I was waiting patiently for something to come together up until the last page of the book. As the stories seemed to want to converge, their connections were left undiscovered and the story seemed unfinished. terrible. I was disappointed.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I would hate to be Jennifer Egan at the start of writing her third novel, because her second novel, Look at Me, will be a tough act to follow. Beautifully written and crafted, with a fugue-like structure, Egan shows how individual lives collide with history in unpredictable ways. Her main character, Charlotte Swenson, is a model from the mid-west who has her face surgically reconstructed after a devastating car accident that takes place during a visit to her despised home town. Charlotte's desperate but cynical repositioning of herself within New York's fashion world draws an incisive portrait of the workings of celebrity culture. Charlotte decides to sell her identity to a new web site, in the course of her personal re-launch. Similarly, a mysteriously missing acquaintance of Charlotte's discard his old identity, and creates himself anew in Charlotte's home town. Egan skillfully links this fluidity of identity with values underlying the larger popular culture, and makes credible the kind of passionate ideological response to popular culture that leads to terrible acts of violence. Like I said, prescient.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "moonglow22" on November 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is incredibly eerie, especially in light of recent events. I'm almost convinced that anyone wanting to understand the events of Sept. 11 should read this book, because it gives an insight into the mind of (albeit fictional) terrorist, and provides a plausible explanation as to why other parts of the world hate us so much.
Even without that aspect though, this is still a fascinating book. It explores the idea of identity in so many different ways: the model who loses her face in a car accident; the young girl who longs for a life of more adventure, and who changes her identity day to day with a little makeup and no glasses; the young boy who hangs around a crowd of older boys just so he won't be seen as "sick" anymore, the suburban parents who fill their homes with things and fancy cars and country club memberships, but who hide anger and despair behind their smiles, and the terrorist who takes on personas and leaves them behind like yesterday's newspaper. It's scary to think that a person's identity can become a corporate entity--but Look At Me shows how that is happenening all around you, and makes you think "How much of me is really a reflection of capitalism?"
Overall, extremely well written, and compelling. My only gripe (and thus the 4 stars) is the ending. It felt rushed; almost as if the author was on a deadline and had to finish right away. Otherwise though, one of the best books of the year, and highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on April 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Jennifer Egan's Look at Me, a National Book Award finalist, is a richly detailed novel which eerily describes cultural events that have come true in the six years since its original publication. The book tells interwoven stories of a high fashion model whose face is shattered and reconstructed following a car accident, a high school girl caught up in a secret affair distancing herself from her peers, and an embattled private eye fighting alcoholism and obsessed with a case involving the fashion model. The most mysterious character is a foreign man consumed by anger for all things American. He moves through society working on his accent and mannerisms, changing his name from town to town, plotting to destroy the American conspiracy.

Egan's novel not only discusses Middle Eastern sleeper cells in a pre-9/11/2001 world, it also predicts the absolute explosion of reality television and marketing, and the phenomenon of social networking on the Internet via tell-all personal spaces. (She wrote the novel over a six-year period and published in mid-2001).

The recurring theme is that of identity, and of the secret or shadow selves that we all hide. Egan's characters struggle to present the right face to the world (in some cases hiring manipulative publicists and marketers) while battling inner demons. The lives of her richly detailed characters gradually converge in a breathtaking climax that changes each one irrevocably.
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