Book Review: Look At Me by Jennifer Egan

I literally just snapped this picture, so photo courtesy of me. I was done with having reviews with no pictures and I’m sure you were, too.

It’s late and I’m rather sleepy (it’s early technically but I’m an early bird so I have to go to bed early so I can wake up early) so this review isn’t going to be as long as I hoped, but I just finished this novel by Jennifer Egan, who also wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad. While I wasn’t a huge fan of that book (I don’t even remember if I got through it or not), I really liked this one called Look At Me. It’s about this young woman whose modeling career and entire life do a 360 when she gets in a car accident and sustains severe injuries, namely an injury to her face. The injury is so bad that the doctors have to put in eighty titanium screws to keep it all together. While her appearance isn’t totally altered, her mind is, and throughout the book she is just trying to regain her sense of self after enduring this traumatic accident. The novel shifts from her perspective to that of the third person, because we get to meet one of the kids of Charlotte’s old friend from school, and this kid happens to be named Charlotte. Charlotte has her own problems she is dealing with, namely with boys. She ends up falling for this older teacher named Mr. West, and is having a hard time confessing her feelings for him to her friends.

Honestly, this is sad to say, but I can’t remember much of the other characters in the book, so this isn’t a character analysis or anything. What engrossed me most about the novel was Charlotte’s perspective. It’s probably because I read first person narratives most of the time, but her narrative is what got me through the book. The third person narrative, I found myself trying to figure out who was who, and the only people I remember from the third person are young Charlotte (the daughter of first person Charlotte’s friend) and Mr. West. The book was well written but it’s sort of like Michael Chabon or even Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity: you can’t let the incredibly descriptive and psychoanalytical language get in the way of you learning about the characters and how they develop as the novel goes on. I felt like I was just getting lost in the characters’ heads throughout the book, and I didn’t know whose head I was getting lost in: Moose’s, Charlotte’s, young Charlotte, the character towards the end named Aziz (“Z”). It wasn’t a bad book, very well written, but I couldn’t tell if it was on me or on Jennifer Egan to help me stay focused on the plot and the characters’ actions instead of just their thoughts.

Or actually, now that I think about it, it is one of those books that is so well-written that you need to read it again because the language just captures you, absorbs you, and then leaves you to figure out what the book meant at the end. I would love to go back and read this book; I am normally not someone who re-reads books (except for college; I was re-reading not for fun, but to discuss the book and then write an essay analysis on it for a grade) but I wouldn’t feel bored if I re-read this book because then I would understand better who the characters are. It would probably also help if I do end up reading it again to take notes on it so that I know who is who. It got so much acclaim (and as you can see on the cover, was a National Book Award finalist) that I hated finishing this book and thinking, What was the point? Because the writing was excellent and I was very much engrossed; but I don’t want to keep forgetting characters when I read books and the characters in this novel were so important.

Look At Me: A Novel. Jennifer Egan. 2001. 415 pp.

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