Book Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Genre: Literary Fiction
Date Published: April 22nd, 2014
Date Read: June 4th, 2014
Cover Love: I’m a sucker for those graphic covers! I much prefer the hardcover design though. It’s just the logo, title, and author. No blurbs. I dislike the assault of praise from other publications – we get it, people like it! Now let me like it too, on my own.
Given Synopsis: “When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.”
What I’d Add: As The Circle expands, and its innovations encroach on more and more of public life, Mae has to decide if she can continue to go along with what the company is becoming.
It’s Sorta Like: It reminded me a bit of The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (which I reviewed and didn’t like so much), but better executed, and more chilling/harrowing.
My Grade: B-
Review: I find Eggers to be an intriguing author. I’ve only read one of his other novels – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – and it was dense. There were great big sections that I just didn’t get, and thus that I felt were unnecessary to the greater story. From what I gather, his works vary greatly – in scope, in topic, in genre. The Circle is a straight fiction piece, a novel that doesn’t break the fourth wall, gives a definitive beginning, middle, and end. And it’s good. Actually pretty dang good. Except for a central flaw with conflict, I really enjoyed this book and its chilling implications.
Let’s start with the good. The story is set up without chapters. Normally it would perturb me to not have a natural stopping place at the end of the night, but the lack of chapters helped the flow of the story. A chapter didn’t fade to black when the protagonist went to sleep. And this is one of those books whose tension comes from something other than threat of bloodshed and danger – I genuinely felt uncomfortable and tense about how the story would resolve itself, in regards to this growing company which seemed to start to control every facet of every life. I loved the conclusion in a way I didn’t think I would (which is all I can really say about the conclusion, without giving everything away).
And now for the lackluster. Mae herself is annoying. She’s what I’d call a “shell” character: someone who can and must be filled with someone else’s opinions. She’s a pushover to a T, someone who nods along with everyone else, seldom if ever forming an opinion entirely her own, and she is obsessed to the point of pain with being liked. It makes you want to get up and shake her, hard, by the neck. Which is kind of Eggers’ point: we should be wanting to shake these people by the neck. But I would have much preferred if Mae had a little backbone, maybe questioned things a little more. She does resist full involvement in The Circle’s culture at first, but is too easily pulled in and consumed. I guess most of us are easily pulled in and consumed by things such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. but it still doesn’t make for a likable character.
Which brings me to my biggest gripe: nowhere, in this story, was there enough opposition for The Circle. Because let’s get real, the internet trolls are never going away. There’s a line in the book that insists that lack of anonymity will cause trolls to forever stop their trolling. And I scoffed. You’ll never cure some of the human race from being jerks just for the hell of it. It’s the same with The Circle’s program to “end crime forever,” or “put an end to corrupt politicians!” that stuff is still going to happen. The Circle introduces these programs and it’s just taken as fact that they work, 100% completely, right away. It’s just…it’s not feasible. And the story would have definitely benefited from the tension that would come from opposition from others. There should have and would have been those within the company who debate it, who question its practices, if only to stir the pot. The couple of times that it does happen – at one point Mae walks into a press conference where a politician claims that the Circle needs to be broken up to avoid a monopoly – and nothing happens. What, nobody believed her? Mae’s ex-boyfriend pipes up a couple of times, verbally and in letter-form, against the dangers of knowing everything about everybody. Mae brushes him off and insults him at every turn. The Circlers are sheep to an absurd degree. NO ONE on that “campus” wants a private moment to themselves? Not one out of the 10,000+? I don’t buy it.
I understand to a point that this is Eggers’ allegory. If this company existed and if everybody bought it and the world was that malleable, this is what would happen. I’m taking it a little too literally here, applying it too much to the world outside of fiction. But it did kind of irk my reading of the novel, as I kept going “Umm, someone should be fighting this?!” That’s probably Eggers’ point, to get that reaction from me. Well then, well played.
And just one more thing: the sexual encounters were unbelievably awkward and unsexy, even the supposedly good ones. At one point Mae obsesses about a guy touching her sacrum. She says it over and over again, and all I could think was What the hell is a sacrum?! That’s an unbelievably unsexy word. There’s got to be a better way to put that! It turns out that the sacrum is the “triangular bone in the lower back formed from fused vertebrae and situated between the two hipbones of the pelvis.” (says a quick Google search) Oooookay. Touching Mae’s sacrum gets her hot. Who would have thought… The lackluster sexual encounters (because of course Mae has more than one suitor: the guys like ’em pliable!) are worse. You cringe for everyone involved. It’s not a good time, all around.
SO. The Circle is pretty dang good. I loved the arc and how it elicited a worried, even frenzied reaction in me to this breach of privacy and Headed-Toward-World-Domination-Company. When I tried to match its fictional world to the real one, I found some problems. But I’d recommend it to anyone who likes their fiction and dystopian speculative, and anyone who looks at Facebook and thinks what if?