Look at me by Jennifer Egan | Book Report

Look at Me by Jennifer Egan 


Our relationship to the image of self that we diligently maintain and project.

The digital personas we create, curate, and/or fabricate.

The alluring illusions of industrialized wealth and the subsequent havoc they have brought upon society, self, and our environments. 

Oh, and the dastardly intentions set by a more-distant kind of extremism bent on obliterating shallow obsessions by bathing them in violence.

These were not topics I expected to encounter when I picked up this book. But, what I found within its pages were a handful of characters – worlds apart in their hopes and dreams, yet lives intersected by blood, lust, and greed – burdened by the relationship fate would have them endure with their identity.

Upon first glance, the book appeared to be a novel that someone in the fashion or media worlds would most appreciate. I judged this book by its cover big time. It is, after all, about a former model rebuilding a life post-facial reconstructive surgery. (Not my usual cup of tea.) But it’s appealing to a much wider audience, serving as a cultural commentary on our society’s blindness to its own petty, skin-deep conditioning.

In a book where a foreign terrorist and a Midwestern, formerly-incarcerated, conspiracy theorist supply the most illuminating perspectives on the misguided state of our culture, I was brought to sobering reflection: 

We are all too capable of being duped by our own sincerity.

In fact, it is the slow-sobering process undertaken by the novel’s main character – Charlotte Swenson, former model, who sells her life story away to become internet fodder – who walks the reader out of the storied shadows where we've all been guilty of hiding our true natures.

Of course, as a National Book Award finalist, and Jennifer Egan being a Pulitzer Prize winner for A Visit from the Goon Squad, you can expect to indulge in fantastic writing in this story, which is actually many stories of lives intertwined by destruction, desire, and an undying need to be seen.

Favorite Quotes 

“We lie. That's what we do. You're selling me a line of bullshit and you want me to sell you a line of bullshit back so you can write a major line of bullshit and be paid for it.”

“As for myself, I’d rather not say very much. When I breathe, the air feels good in my chest. And when I think of the mirrored room, as of course I still do, I understand now that it’s empty, filled with chimeras like Charlotte Swenson—the hard, beautiful seashells left behind long after the living creatures within have struggled free and swum away. Or died. Life can’t be sustained under the pressure of so many eyes. Even as we try to reveal the mystery of ourselves, to catch it unawares, expose its pulse and flinch and peristalsis, the truth has slipped away, burrowed further inside a dark, coiled privacy that replenishes itself like blood. It cannot be seen, much as one might wish to show it. It dies the instant it is touched by light.”

New Vocabulary

  • Protean: tending or able to change frequently or easily. Able to do many things; versatile.
  • Garrulous: talkative, especially on trivial matters.
  • Egregious: outstandingly bad; shocking.
  • Foment: instigate or stir up (an undesirable or violent sentiment or cause of action).
  • Febrile: having or showing a great deal of nervous excitement or energy.
  • Denouement: the climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear.
  • Piquant: pleasantly stimulating or exciting to the mind.
  • Apogee: the highest point of development in something; the climax or culmination.
  • Synecdoche: a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.
  • Moribund: (of a personal) at the point of death. (of a thing) in terminal decline; lacking vitality.
  • Demure: (of a woman or her behavior) reserved, modest, and shy.
  • Parsimonious: unwilling the spend money or use resources; stingy or frugal.