Sunday, February 4, 2018

LOOK AT ME by Jennifer Egan

Charlotte Swenson is a former model in her late 30s who now has 80 titanium screws in her face due to a horrific car accident.  She struggles to put her life back together but finds that she is no longer in demand as a model.  After sabotaging a couple of weird opportunities, she finds herself in the midst of a Big Brother-type internet venture that may or may not pan out financially.  She is also in contact with a private investigator, Anthony Halliday, who is searching for a mysterious man known as Z, but Charlotte’s connection to Z is revealed one tiny bit at a time.  Meanwhile, a teenage Charlotte (Hauser), daughter of Charlotte Swenson’s best friend in Rockford, Illinois, is struggling with adolescent issues of her own and embarks on an illicit sexual liaison with the new math teacher in town.  The narrative alternates between the two Charlottes, neither of whom is a particularly likable character.  Halliday is the most sympathetic character, I think, but his possible infatuation with Charlotte S. is certainly ill-advised, as she is a head case of the first order.  The saving grace of his novel is the beautiful prose, full of terrific imagery.  Here’s one of my favorite examples:

“A couple approached, the woman large in the way that couches and refrigerators were large, dressed in a loose floral pantsuit that hopped around her like a collection of eager pets.”

The novel is full of this type of stuff that just made me sigh with admiration and envy.  The premise of the story is very good:  the physical appearance of someone who depends on her looks is suddenly radically altered.  The plot isn’t bad, or plots, I should say, although they do eventually merge, but I think the premise and the writing could have produced something a little more meaty.

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