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Look at Me: A Novel Paperback – October 8, 2002
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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.--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book explores the concept of identity and the ways that identity shifts according to time, place, audience and self-concept, among other influences. In Look At Me, all things have shifting identities, including places -- cities, homes, even nightclubs and automobiles. Some identities are deliberate replications of a person's memories or experiences. Others are less manufactured and seem to arise more naturally out of one's unconscious. And Egan's characters display a range of all types, even a man nicknamed Moose, who seems to be suffering from some type of mental illness.
Egan examines identity at (pun intended) face value in the main character, Charlotte Swenson, who is a model in the twilight of her career. At a time when her face would be changing naturally due to age, Charlotte has an auto accident that damages her face to the point where she must have drastic reconstructive surgery. Her new looks cause many old acquaintances not to recognize her. Whether that is good or bad is up to the reader.
On another level, some characters experience less visible, more conceptual shifts in their identities. For instance, a teenage boy who has just recovered from leukemia juggles views of himself as 'the sick kid' and 'the dare devil.' An immigrant begins his life in the US as either a would-be terrorist or a club hopping hipster, depending on his audience. Over the course of the novel he assumes several other identities, ending up in one that is plausible at the novel's end, but barely imaginable at its beginning.
"Audience" is a key concept in the novel -- one's identity depends on who is looking, as well as on who is looking out upon the world. We can construct an identity, but whether that is the identity that others see is an open question.
There are multiple, provocative ideas in this absorbing novel, which is less about plot and more about characterization, as Egan's books apparently are. I plan on reading all of her work, and I highly recommend Look At Me for readers who enjoy serious contemporary fiction.