Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jennifer Egan/LOOK AT ME

Charlotte, a thirty-five-year-old model at a dangerous point in her failing career is in a near-fatal car accident that ends her up with 80 titanium screws in her reconstructed face. As she desperately tries to save her professional life, Charlotte finds her life intersecting with those of an alcoholic detective, a depressive and mildly psychotic history professor, an anti-American math teacher, and, most critically, a precocious and lonely sixteen-year-old girl.

While it was full of clever concepts and foresights that have, since the book was published, come true, this book was quite a disappointment in terms of execution. Egan had some really potentially interesting ideas, but the relationships between and among the nicely developed characters were, without exception, very contrived. When I realized where the ending was heading, I found myself skimming the last 150 pages. It is not completely fair for me to judge the passages I did not read carefully, but there was not a whole lot of action in the plot and I failed to force myself through it. Most frustratingly for me, the narrative went from long passages of first person (Charlotte) to a rotating third person (everyone else) without apology or explanation. That just about drove me crazy.

I am glad I read the book, because there are a lot of things in it to think about and I am left with a very strong impression of the characters. I do not, however, understand how this was a National Book Award finalist.

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