Book Check: "The Circle" by Dave Eggers
Title: The Circle (a novel)
Tell Me About the Author: Dave Eggers burst onto the literary scene in 2000 with a hilarious and heart-rending memior, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis. Since that time, he has founded McSweeney's and been a fairly prolific author -- this is his fourth novel in addition to a number of other writings. Eggers is considered one of the major authors of our (at least my) generation, writing literary fiction (as opposed to, say, a Tom Clancy or John Grisham). That is, he is considered a "serious" writer; think Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody (who is overrated), Zadie Smith and Jennifer Egan.
And this Novel is About What? The novel is set in the not too distant future, where a company called the Circle, has vanquished all rivals in Silicon Valley; the Circle bought Facebook and vanquished Google, among others. While Eggers is clearly using Google as a template, this is not Google, it's Google on steroids.
To work at the Circle is a coveted gig. So, our protagonist, Mae Holland, gets a job at the Circle when her college roommate, Annie, who has quickly moved up the ranks at the Circle, gets her a job. Annie is a member of the G-40, the inner circle "Circlers" who make the big decisions and are feted by the junior Circlers. The Circle is led by "The Wise Men," a group of three seemingly benign corporate leaders. The Circle's greatest accomplishment -- as the book opens -- is TruYou, an everything account -- social media, credit cards, banking, etc. -- one account with one password. The account is free, but the user was giving up any semblance of personal privacy to the Circle.
At first, the Circle seem "like Heaven" to Mae. Her father, who has MS, is given free health insurance, ending his endless fight with the insurance companies. There are, however, dark sides to the Circle. The company is working a project called "The Completion" (complete the circle), wherein all data and many government functions would flow through the Circle. The company demands complete transparency, using slogans like SECRETS ARE LIES and PRIVACY IS THEFT. Indeed, the Circle is working on making having a Circle account mandatory (i.e., against the law) -- an idea that our protagonist herself eventually comes up with once she has drank the company's kool-aid.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, plot-wise. Mae meets a mysterious man on Campus -- what the Circle calls its workplace -- named Kalden, who eventually warns Mae, after they become romantically involved, that the Circle is dangerous. Once the Completion happens the company will have access to all information; it will control the flow of all information and then we will be living in technocratic dictatorship run by the Circle.
The novel actually works to something like a suspenseful ending -- unusual for literary fiction -- where Mae is eventually faced with a choice for her loyalty: Kalden or the Circle.
Should I Buy It? Probably, but wait for the trade paperback; there's no rush here. I am even more conflicted on recommending this book to Eggers' fans. Here's why: The Circle is accessible, but almost too accessible. Eggers has interesting things to say about democracy, the implications of technology and privacy and the limits of human knowledge, but you certainly know it when he does. The book wears its heart and message on its proverbial sleeve. It does not seem like something Eggers would care about it, but if I didn't know better, I would think he was angling for a Oprah's Book Club selection.
Or perhaps, Eggers is just attempting to widen his readership. The book is a fun read, and Eggers does a good job of building the book to its suspenseful ending. Just don't expect to be too intellectually challenged, Eggers has done all the work for you