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18 January 2016

Book Review | The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle by Dave Eggers | October 2013 | Vintage Books, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday | Paperback $15.95

★ ★ ★

This book was chosen for a community-wide book club, Galveston Reads, sponsored by the local public library and some local foundations and businesses. This program always includes several themed events and book discussions, which I look forward to participating in this year.

I can see why The Circle is so popular. There's even a movie based on it due out in 2016, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks (which I'm very much looking forward to seeing). Comparisons to dystopian classics Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are apt, except that this time the boogeyman isn't Big Government or Big Industry -- it's Big Tech.

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It is flawed, mind you. I got the feeling that Eggers was trying to be subtle about the moral of the story at first -- that allowing the encroachment of technology into private lives is perilous -- but I personally thought it was immediately obvious and got to be a bit tiresome. And I'm a librarian, for heaven's sake, practically a card-carrying member of the Privacy is Fucking Important League. So perhaps my impatience with this is merely a function of being steeped in the issues on the daily?

And I have to admit that I bristled 2 or 3 times at the descriptions of the young, hip techies -- including our supposed heroine, Mae -- just blindly accepting whatever shiny new thing their company asked them to swallow (quite literally, in one instance... except it wasn't even a consensual swallow, which I know sounds dirty, but it just bugged me, and I'd better stop talking before we get into Spoiler Territory).

Maybe I'm just a little touchy about all the "Millennials blah blah this," and "Snake People blah blah that," swirling around in the media these days, but the assumption that pretty much everyone, but especially almost all young adults would just unquestioningly accept some of the shit that went down in The Circle really rubbed me the wrong way. Things like SnapChat exist primarily because there is already a widespread  understanding of the need for some level of privacy or erasability among the up-n-coming generations.

Mae, the main character is... annoying in a sympathetic sort of way. She's self-centered and often purposefully oblivious to actual human communication, ready to lie (even to herself, especially to herself) in even the most ridiculous circumstances (even when she's being "transparent", especially when she's being transparent), and she has terrible taste in men. Unfortunately, she genuinely thinks she's doing the right thing in most situations, she wanted so badly to get out of her home town that she took a huge risk to make it happen, and she often wishes that someone else would make important/confusing decisions for her... which I all find embarrassingly relatable.

Speaking of terrible taste in men... there was one "twist" in particular that I didn't find at all surprising, and I won't say too much about it in order to avoid spoiling the plot for potential readers -- except to say that it should be obvious to just about anyone who isn't an oblivious idiot like Mae. Once I had this figured out, nothing at all about the rest of the novel was a surprise. There are some plot holes related to this particular revelation, too.

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So... why 3 stars? Because despite all of that, I practically devoured the book. I stayed up too late reading it and couldn't stop thinking about it after working through a few pages during my lunch break.

Even a week after finishing it, I kept thinking about it. I got more and more irritated with the premise and the bleak assumptions about human nature, but I kept thinking about it, and that's something.

The plot pacing is addictive. The insidious way that a giant tech company can fool the world (starting with itself) into believing that it cares is depicted in a perfectly creepy way (... and yes, I'm writing this on a Google platform). Warts and all, it's still a well-written, provocative book.

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Intrigued? Check out these links:

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Publication information: Eggers, Dave. The Circle. New York: Vintage, 2014. Print.
Source: A gift from my local public library for Galveston Reads.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

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