Look at Me

This is a stunningly ambitious novel about American life today, one that weaves together numerous sociopolitical strands—our obsession with image, celebrity and wealth, the decline of industrial America, the nation’s increasing vulnerability in an ever-shrinking world—without sacrificing emotional lyricism or strong characterization.

It’s about two Charlottes, one a fading New York City model who’s just survived a catastrophic auto accident that’s rearranged her face, the other a plain-looking 16-year-old girl in Middle America who’s come under the sway of two older men: her mentally unstable uncle, a scholar of American industrialism, and a shadowy high school math teacher who may or may not be a terrorist and who becomes her lover.

There’s a connection between the two Charlottes, and as the novel progresses we see their stories converging toward a climactic scene that is jarring in its clash of disparate images. In the end we’re left to contemplate the darkness that lurks behind the cult of beauty, the emptiness of celebrity and the promise of reinvention that America offers.

Egan, whose first novel was the critically acclaimed The Invisible Circus, allows us to get close to several fascinating characters who, in their response to the pressures of life, tell us much about what it means to be an American today.

Look at Me recently was nominated for a National Book Award.