Look at Me – Jennifer Egan

Image vs. Identity.  Pick one.


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.

Gees.  Arrgh! I have been writing and deleting and writing and deleting for hours trying to figure out what I want to say about this book and how to go about saying it.  I’ll start here.  I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like it because it was one of those books where the writer so heavily pushes her message or agenda, that the characters and plot all get lost somewhere in the midst of it.  The message was that America has become a society obessed with image rather than personal identity, interested in what is presented on the surface with little regard for whats really underneath.  Thats all well and good, but around the middle of the book, her carefully executed storyline and well developed characters start to spin out and I felt a little like I was trapped in a  Jackson Pollack painting. Ok, I’m exagerating, it didn’t become confusing as much as it became (ouch) skim worthy.   I felt in a way like the characters were being sacrificed up as  literary devices, each one becoming nothing but an illustration of the books central theme.  It was a bummer really, because I was really involved with them in the first half of the book and then they just sort of slid away.  I’m the type of reader that needs to have a strong connection with the characters in order to really enjoy the book. 

Maybe I’m being too hard.  This was a very carefully thought out and skillfully written book.  A Contemporary Fiction Professors wet dream.  What I felt it really lacked however, was a soul.

Oh my God, I hope Jennifer Egan’s fans are more forgiving than Hunter S. Thompson’s.  Actually, I LOVED The Keep by Jennifer Egan and would recommend it in a second. So there, go read that one.


Stay tuned for my next post, when I discuss A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a beautifully written book with so much heart and soul it might actually have a pulse.


2 Responses to “Look at Me – Jennifer Egan”

  1. Yeah, I read the blurb you quoted and couldn’t help thinking, “well that would be a tough book to review.” Then I read your next paragraph. *grin*

    This does sound like the kind of book where you’d need to be very careful to let the characters speak for themselves and take center stage, so it’s too bad it sounds like they don’t work out that way.

  2. ED – Alot of people really liked this book, so maybe it just depends on whats most important to you as a reader. You alwasy leave the best comments. Thanks!

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