Thursday, January 19, 2017
Review: "The Circle" by Dave Eggers
In the new, 20th Anniversary edition of David Foster Wallace, there is a new introduction with a quote that I could not stop thinking about while reading Dave Eggers’ brilliant and terrifying novel The Circle. In describing the book’s somewhat prophetic view on technology, the author describes the internet as something that can both bring people together yet make us more distant, and it does this in equal measure and simultaneously. That idea is pushed to its nightmarish breaking point in this devilishly clever novel which wears its association with books like Huxley’s Brave New World and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We(1984 is an obvious choice, but I have not read that book yet) with pride. While Eggers seems to have an enviable ability to write with any many genres, this book being different from novels like A Hologram for a King and last year’s Heroes of the Frontier, certain themes and ideas find their way into all of his stories, and one that I see strongly in this book and his others is the sense of loneliness that develops out of displacement, whether you are brokering a deal across the world, running from your former life in Alaska or even staging a kidnapping in an abandon army barracks, Eggers’ characters find themselves in strange worlds with even stranger feeling and almost all the time in a modern landscape that filled with both wonder and devastating dangers. In this book, that danger is one that can be found without the benefit of an airplane or mobile home, but one whose roots can be found in your pocket at this very moment. Mae Holland, the protagonist of the story, is more than thrilled to land a job with The Circle, a technology company with its hands in every kind of field imaginable and wanting to expand even more. She is bolstered by her friend Annie; a former dorm mate of Mae’s who got her the job. She quickly climbs up the social hierarchy of the company, whose dreamlike exterior masks more sinister intentions. The book is filled with many striking scenes, which Egger’s renders with deadpan wit and disturbing accuracy as Mae becomes more entrenched in The Circle’s all-encompassing world of zings, ratings and extravagant on site parties. There is some levity in the form of Mae’s home life, with her Mom and Dad, who happens to be suffering from MS and Mercer, her ex-boyfriend, who sees the horrid implications of Mae’s headlong dive into technological and ultimately ubiquitous transparency. I was impressed by the lecture/demonstration scenes, of which there are many. Most of the time they are guide by Eamon Bailey, one of the three founders of The Circle, whose gentle demeanor does little to hide what he really envisions The Circle is capable of, but one frightening scene near the end, where Mae herself demonstrates, without a hint of irony, a new invasive technology that promise to end crime. It is easy to see the horror in the scene, and the dreaded sadness at what eventually happens, but how Egger’s describes things, or sells them to the audience and us the reader, it is hard to argue with the character’s logic. Meditative, somber and exciting, with a rather bleak ending, this book is another high point for one of modern America’s literary titans.