Jennifer Egan

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Jennifer Egan was raised in San Francisco. She majored in English Literature at University of Pennsylvania then traveled Europe which inspired her to become a writer. She wanted to express the loneliness and disconnectedness she felt. Each of Egan’s novels are distinctively different from one another. Egan writes fiction short stories and novels with clarity and sharpness. She ranges from a recovering face (Look At Me) to coming of age (The Invisible Circus) to a gothic tale of betrayal (The Keep). Egan’s award winning book was The Invisible Circus, her first novel in 1995. Her second novel, Look At Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2011, followed by The Keep being the National Bestseller. Egan’s fourth novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad, won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award. Award winning Jennifer Egan approached her work lateral feelings because time is not linear.

An Interview with Jennifer Egan

Personal Connection/Reaction:
When holding Egan’s books, I realized I was interested in reading each one because of the synopsis on the back cover and her style of writing. Look At Me opens up in a first person narration which allows the reader to know who is in charge. In a first person narration, it is easier to make a stronger connection with the character than other narrations. I can somewhat relate to this novel because of the society I live in today. In today’s society, image is the controlling factor. The media has created an ideal image that drives the people in society to strive to look like that image. In Look At Me, Charlotte was a New York fashion model that was involved in a car crash which changed her image. Her fashion model friends ignored her, shunned her, and sometimes fail to recognize her. Things like this happen in our world today. People try to maintain their image so they can still be favored by society. I can relate to this because today’s society tries to demonstrate the ideal image through models. I have been a victim of thinking that models are the perfect image to be. I was a little shocked when I read about Charlotte getting into her terrible car crash because I knew that was the climax of the story and it would change her life. This teenage girl has to deal with a stranger who changes his accent and his name to blow up the world with a prophecy against American society. The curiosity of not knowing what will happen next kept me engaged in the book to find out more details.

When Egan discovered that she wanted to become a writer, she wrote her first novel, The Invisible Circus. This novel was also about a teenage girl but this girl, Phoebe O’Conner, dealt with the memory and death of her sister. The Invisible Circus was centered in Europe where Phoebe went back to retrace her sister’s steps to find the truth about her sister’s death. I made the connection that Egan was inspired to create such a novel through her own experience of travelling through Europe and having the desire to find out the truth in Europe. Reading about this quest made me realize how well Jennifer Egan can tie suspense and emotion within characters. The thrill of not knowing the truth and trying to discover it kept me interested to continue reading.


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Critical Review Summary:

Jennifer Egan uses words that make her readers feel like they are swimming. In The Invisible Circus, Egan describes a girl that has to deal with the suicide of her sister. This teenage girl, Phoebe, is determined to trace the footsteps of her sister to find the truth in her suicide. Many critics fell in love with Egan’s style of writing. She wrote in such a way to make readers feel as though they were experiencing the journey of Phoebe. Egan designed this book based on reality. She did not try to sweeten the story because she knew that was not a part of reality. As I read community reviews, a reader by the name of Kate has said Egan begins her book off a little rough but the book soon smoothen out and it is very vivid. Kate mentioned how the narrator’s memory was real and painful which made her sit the book side for a few days. Egan’s writing impacts lives through her meaningful words in her novels. Other critics also mentioned their love for this novel. They love her way of words and her ability to get her readers to put themselves in Phoebe’s shoes and to live the life of a different time. Critics were intrigued by the way Egan unfolded the story. I agree with the critics, Jennifer Egan does have a way with words and her book is very detailed which allows readers to live in the moment and become attached to her book.

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Critical Essay:

Jennifer Egan approached Look At Me differently than The Invisible Circus. Instead of a slow read in the beginning, Egan zips straight to the point. This forces the reader to pay close attention to everything that goes on throughout the book. Egan focused on the portrayal of images. This novel is centered around a damaged and newly created face of a girl that has tried to outrun her fractured childhood. Charlotte is a model trying to escape middle class. She spends most of her adult life getting by on appearances. Charlotte lost her recognizable face in a terrible car accident. She begins to rebuild her face through surgery which still makes her unfamiliar to her friends and everyone around her. Egan relates Look At Me to the view of the fashion industry along with a spice of reality. In Look At Me, Jennifer Egan uses the struggle of Charlotte to reform her identity after a tragic accident to make the point that society over emphasizes physical attractiveness.

Egan creates Charlotte’s character to focus on her attractiveness. The book opens up with Charlotte Swenson emerging from a car accident in her hometown. The accident was a catastrophe that led to the destruction of her face. This takes a part from her attractiveness. I believe Jennifer Egan was trying to convey her own beliefs of her view on models in the industry. She realizes that attractiveness is the key of getting people by. Charlotte passed by her childhood through her attractiveness. Egan used the car accident to change the life of Charlotte. Charlotte could no longer get by fully off her physical attraction. She returns to New York beautiful but oddly unrecognizable even with the surgery done to get her back to normal.

Charlotte is now a stranger in the world that she use to occupy, all because of the lost of her face. Egan conveys the message of society over emphasizing physical attractiveness through the aftermath of Charlotte’s accident. She makes it clear that society creates a perfect image. Charlotte gets furious with everything that is happening, 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.” (21). Egan shows how images are sold just for profit. She also reveals how the media leis to make a perfect image so it can be sold. This novel implies the commodification of human life online is much worse than the old-media world of celebrity photo-shoots and magazine gossip.

Egan wrote Look At Me to make a connection with feelings and emotions in the book rather than understanding the book. Jennifer Egan makes sure she identifies that the way the internet offers realness blinds us to the world that it is rapidly creating.

“ At night, the house thick with sleep, she would peer out her bedroom window at the trees and sky and feel the presence of a mystery. Some possibility that included—separate from her present life and without its limitations. A secret. Riding in the car with her father, she would look out at other cars full of people she’d never seen, any one of whom she might someday met and love, and would feel the world holding her making its secret plans.”

-Egan shows how her present life is a secret and how she has gotten by most of her life through her looks. The car is a symbol of the car accident and she sees people that she has never seen because they end up not recognizing her because of her secret physical appearance.

“I would lie of course. I lied a lot and with good reason: to protect the truth—safeguard it like wearing fake gems to keep the real ones from getting stolen or cheapened by overuse. I guarded what truths I possessed because information was not a thing—it was colorless odorless shapeless and therefore indestructible. There was no way to retrieve or void it no way to halt its proliferation. Telling someone a secret was like storing plutonium inside a sandwich bag the information would inevitably out live the friendship or love or trust in which you’d placed it. And then you would have given it away.”

-Egan uses this quote to show how Charlotte lies and how everyone else lies. Everyone else are lying about the true image that the media does not show. She uses Charlotte to identify how she would lie about her physical appearance to be accepted.

Work Cited:

"Author Jennifer Egan: On Writing and Suprising the Reader." News Details. 27 Apr. 2012. Web. <http://www.marymount.edu/newsEvents/newsDetails.aspx?Channel=%2FChannels%2FSite+Wide+Content&WorkflowItemID=7f44912c-5909-4898-9ed0-e0ff084f14d8>.

Flanagan, Mark. "Jennifer Egan." Jennifer Egan Bio. Web. <http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/authorprofiles/p/Jennifer-Egan.htm>.

"Jennifer Egan." The Pulitzer Prizes. Web. http://www.pulitzer.org/biography/2011-Fiction.

Sittenfield, Curtis. “Jennifer Egan.” 21 Apr. 2011. Web. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2066367_2066369_2066320,00.html.

-Kiara Moore