Jennifer Egan is the author of four novels: A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Keep, Look at Me, The Invisible Circus; and the story collection Emerald City. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, GQ, Zoetrope, All-Story, and Ploughshares, and her nonfiction appears frequently in The New York Times Magazine. She lives with her husband and sons in Brooklyn.
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 fiance 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) FYI: Egan's writing appears in publications like the New Yorker and Harper's, and The Invisible Circus was recently made into a film featuring Cameron Diaz. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/01.] Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty P.L., VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Brilliantly unnerving. . . . A haunting, sharp, splendidly articulate novel." -The New York Times "Comic, richly imagined, and stunningly written. . . . An energetic, unorthodox, quintessentially American vision of America." -The New Yorker "Look at Me is so engrossing, energetic, sharp, and funny, it reminded me of Ralph Ellison's masterpiece, Invisible Man." -Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air (NPR) "Arresting. . . . Look at Me is the real thing-brave, honest, unflinching. [It] is itself a mirror in which we can clearly see the true face of the times in which we live." -Francine Prose, The New York Observer "Egan limns the mysteries of human identity and the stranglehold our image-obsessed culture has on us all in this complicated and wildly ambitious novel." -Newsweek "Intriguing. . . . An unlikely blend of tabloid luridness and brainy cultural commentary. . . . The novel's uncanny prescience gives Look at Me a rare urgency." -Time "Egan has created some compelling characters and written provocative meditations on our times. . . . [She] has captured our culture in its edge-city awfulness." -The Washington Post Book World "Look at Me is a complicated novel . . . but the questions it raises are worth following a lifetime of labyrinths toward the answers." -Los Angeles Times "Ambitious, swiftly paced. . . . Egan writes with such shimmering ï¿½lan that it's easy to follow her cast on its journey." -The Wall Street Journal "Prescient and provocative. . . . The characters . . . jump from the pages and dare you to care about them. . . . The prose is crisp and precise. . . . The pieces fit together at the end with a satisfying click." -Philadelphia Inquirer "Impressive. . . . Few recent books have so eloquently demonstrated how often fiction, in its visionary form, speaks of truth." -Salon.com "Look at Me makes us think about our trust in the images that bombard us, and what we give away in the process." -Chicago Tribune "Egan's rich new novel . . . is about bigger things: double lives; secret selves; the difficulty of really seeing anything in a world so flooded with images." -The Nation "Stunning. . . . This is more than a story, it's a thought-world, a novel of ideas brilliantly cloaked in the skin of characters." -The Sunday Oregonian "Egan's take . . . is surreal and profoundly ironic and exaggerated, but it still rings true. . . . Beneath it all, she finds characters worth saving." -Hartford Courant "Breathtaking. . . . Combines the tautness of a good mystery with the measured, exquisitely articulated detail and emotional landscape of the most literary of narratives. . . . Sure to leave readers thinking about these very real characters for some time to come." -BookPage "An imaginative, well-paced read with serious questions about the elusiveness of meaning inside the gilded cage. Egan has intelligence to burn but plenty of feeling too." -People "Part mystery, part cultural critique, [Look at Me] . . . build[s] to a conclusion that is unexpected and disturbing, and mak[es] an incisive statement about our society's obsession with fame and glamour." -San Francisco Chronicle "Riveting. . . . As the book gains momentum, Egan's writing is both fluid and driven, with wonderful slashes of satire. . . . A remarkable study of our culture . . . and of our palpable need to be known." -O: The Oprah Magazine "Egan has created a compelling world. . . . With [her] graceful prose and vivid characterizations, she navigates her plot lines' churning waters with admirable skill." -Seattle Weekly "[A] scintillating inquiry into the complex and profound dynamics of perception. . . . Egan . . . animates a superb cast of intriguing and unpredictable characters, and tells an elegantly structured, emotionally arresting and slyly suspenseful story." -Newsday "Dark, hugely ambitious. . . . As riveting as a roadside wreck-and noxiously, scathingly funny." -Elle "Intelligent and refreshingly dark, Egan's eerie tale has the same mesmerizing pull as the culture it skewers." -Us Weekly "This masterfully plotted work bears the stamp of a perceptive-if not clairvoyant-writer whose disturbing vision . . . rings all too true." -SF Weekly "Egan's ability to move with ease between sincerity and satire sets Look at Me apart. . . . Her authentic-feeling details give a sense of unusual immediacy." -Vogue