The Circle by Dave Eggers
(Title image credit goes to The Daily Beast.)
Mae, as many twenty-somethings do, finds herself stuck in the mechanical ebb and flow of everyday life. With each passing day, she becomes increasingly troubled by her mundane office job and the overall lot she’s been given in life. One day, an old college friend named Annie contacts Mae and advises her to apply for a job at an up-and-coming tech company known as “The Circle”. Mae is immediately taken with the idea of fully realizing her potential and quickly applies.
The Circle is a utopia in every way Mae could have ever hoped for. With dozens of passionate employees (known as “Circlers”) and a combined drive for world peace, Mae discovers a sense of solace in this new hub of progression. The Circle represents the best technology and an even more promising and innovative future with each new program it implements. However, the longer Mae works, the more unsettling the company’s ethos becomes. With eerie mantras promoting complete transparency over personal privacy, the Circle slowly transforms from a company of promises to one filled with secrets.
“She couldn’t stand it. Every day of that job, the eighteen months she worked there, she wondered if she could really ask Annie for a favor. She’d never been one to ask for something like that, to be rescued, to be lifted,” (page 11).
“‘I like your voice,’ he said. ‘Was it always that way?’
‘Low and scratchy?’
‘I would call it seasoned. I would call it soulful. You know Tatum O’Neal?'” (page 35).
“‘You like bowl cuts.’
‘No. Your voice. So far it’s the best thing about you.’
Mae said nothing. She felt like she’d been slapped.
‘Shit,’ he said. ‘Did that sound weird? I was trying to give you a compliment,'” (page 35).
“‘Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. And I’m not talking about a new building on campus. I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket. We did that once before. It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would be lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle,'” (page 68).
“‘Mae, we would finally be compelled to be our best selves. And I think that people would be relieved. There would be this global sigh of relief. Finally, finally, finally we can be good. In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good. Can you imagine?'” (page 292)
Truthfully I hadn’t heard of this book until I happened to see one of the first movie trailers for its film adaptation. I figured that I hadn’t read any dystopian-leaning fiction in awhile and the plot looked fascinating, so I was immediately drawn to the book and purchased it as soon as I could. This being said, before I even picked up the book I had a sense of the material I would be working with. I figured the layout would look a little something like this: Tech company looks great at first glance, a hopelessly naïve girl applies for her dream job, aforementioned girl is lured into the jungles of the company’s promises, and then everything suddenly turns sour in a matter of chapters until the girl realizes her first mistake working for the company. The magic of this genre, primarily paved by noteworthy novels such as 1984 and Brave New World, is that the plot’s ever-present anxiety and tension is built into the very foundation of the book just as much as it is in its text. This tension is a definite strength in The Circle. Dave Eggers does a wonderful job of suspending the reader in an atmosphere feels both hostile and warmly inviting. In my mind, this juxtaposition creates a thrilling electric tension.
In addition, one of the greatest characteristics about this book is how mysterious it is about revealing the company’s true intentions. As I was reading, I felt like I was running through page after page hoping to arrive at an obvious climax, but each time I became more ensnarled in the Circle’s web. The beauty and the insanity of this book is that you’re constantly presented with unfulfilled questions despite the spiking tension. In time, this either becomes enticing or frustrating depending on the reader.
Without spoiling anything I’ll give you a quick example. Mae’s job includes many components which seem ridiculous, but no one (not even Mae herself) ever confirms how ridiculous they are or questions why she’s being put up to all of this work. She starts off with two computer screens which seems somewhat normal, but then her manager begins adding one monitor after another. After that she’s answering surveys, conducting more tests, coaching newbies, and still completing her regular workload. The company also continually harasses Mae into staying late for events and clubs and interrogates her if she doesn’t comply. But again, this is left for the reader to gauge as the Circle is only as horrifying as the reader makes it.
In totality, I think the book’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that it somewhat trivializes the social commentary it hopes to invoke with over-simplified and reused technological cliches and criticisms. The message of The Circle is one the general public has already heard time and time again, so it’s really nothing new. (I like to think of it as more of a call to action rather than a direct claim about the way technology is integrated into society for better or for worse.) Furthermore, sometimes it felt like Eggers was trying too hard to write the next 1984 so that turned me off a bit. However, on the flip side I think there is something to be said for the pacing of the plot and the overall character development (**or lack thereof). The Circle is similar to many other dystopian movies and books in content and structure, but different as its conclusion leaves multiple questions hanging and challenges the genre in an interesting way. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this book is revolutionary, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.
Lastly, I haven’t seen the movie but if my sources are correct, there are many differences between movie and book so I think it’s definitely worth reading.