boldtype
Jennifer Egan   Look at Me  
Jennifer Egan    
Essay

Rean an excerpt from Look at Me

 

Jennifer Egan's career as a writer has followed a trajectory that seems conceived by a writer itself, arching gloriously, tinged with the rights bits of knowing irony and cynicism but always reaching for and landing in the right places. Her first novel, Invisible Circus, was published with a splash, followed by a short story collection, and then the novel became a movie starring Cameron Diaz that disappeared (mercifully) as soon as it opened. In the meantime, she was finding her widest audience with a series of much-talked-about, perfect moment-capturing cover stories for the New York Times Magazine (which are all accessible on her website) on topics ranging from the model James King to the practice of teenage girls cutting themselves to young gay men coming out on the Internet.

And then in it all came together in a novel unlike anything she had tried to do in fiction before. It is the book that brings everything together, the fine prose and intricate storytelling ability with the New York sophistication and pop culture savvy. Look at Me is largely the story of Charlotte, an aging New York model whose face is destroyed in a car accident. The best in plastic surgery can make her attractive again, but not recognizable, so she's forced so start over again in a media world with a miraculous amount of new ways for "ordinary" people to find an audience. Charlotte's story intertwines with several other narratives, including a plain young girl in the midwest growing up in this culture, a childhood friend of hers who is now an eternal adjunct professor at a backwater college after he threatened to blow up Yale University as a rising young academic, a swashbuckling businessman with Internet stars in his eyes, and--most provocatively--a Middle Eastern terrorist living undercover in the good old U.S. of A.

And it's that last character that hints at the bite of the next episode in Egan's career. The pre-publicity hype had hit full crank when Look At Me landed in stores the week of September 10th...

And then, a month later, just as the world was beginning to recover enough to look to things like books again, Look at Me was nominated for National Book Award. For now, at least, a happy ending.

In this issue of Bold Type, Egan addresses the interplay of reality and fiction in her work, including the events at the World Trade Center.



Bold Type

Bold Type
Bold Type
     
 
  Send us comments