Thursday, November 1, 2012


I was completely drawn in by Jennifer Egan's 2001 novel Look at Me, which I listened to as read by Rachael Warren. It is, in some ways, all over the place. But it's woven into a vast strange look at looks, and what's behind them.

Charlotte is a New York model who ends up with an unrecognizable face after her car is totalled one day near her hometown of Rockford, Ill. (Or as she prefers to put it, distancingly, "near Chicago.") After months of recovery and reconstruction, she returns to the fashion world - or tries to, but without her former face, can't get work. Meanwhile, a detective is after her help to find the mysterious Z, who disappeared around the time of Charlotte's accident. Eventually Charlotte becomes embroiled in an Internet venture (this was 2001, after all) to put her life on display. Kind of an early Kardashian, but faker. Or more real, depending on who you ask. Her hook is the fact that no one can tell who she is anymore, but behind that is the deeper truth that she's not all that sure herself.

Meanwhile, back in Rockford, her former best friend's daughter, also named Charlotte, is entranced by the mysterious Michael, who showed up in town around the time of Charlotte's accident. Young Charlotte is perfectly teen-love-struck - her refrain is "if he does that, then he loves me" - and seeing Michael through her eyes is astounding when compared to seeing Michael though his own lens and that of the omniscient reader.

This was my first audiobook narrated by Warren, and while I enjoyed her tone and pacing, I wished for a little more complexity and differentiation to her voices. With the shifting POVs of Egan's novel, it would have enhanced the audio a good bit.

Big Charlotte's ambition is to see the "shadow self" of everyone she meets. Not the face they hold to the world, but the one beneath that, that shows the truth of a person. And throughout Look at Me, one thing is clear: no one is who they seem. No one is as bad as they seem, or as good as they wish. It doesn't take a disfiguring wreck to see that beauty is skin deep but depth is difficult for us all.

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