The Circle, a novel by Dave Eggers, follows the story of Mae Holland, a twenty-something who takes a job with an online social media giant called 'the Circle.' Featuring a generous salary, comprehensive health care package, the most advanced technology on the planet, and the opportunity to interact with (and influence) millions of people all over the world, her new position is as close to perfect as Mae can imagine. Soon, however, we--and Mae--see that the Circle is not content with merely providing convenient frivolity for those of us who are maybe slightly easily distracted online; with trillions of dollars in capital, powerful allies in both the public and private sectors, and providing service to a population always hungry for the newest update in the newest software, the Circle begins to seek--and seize--power beyond that which should be available in any organized democracy. When privacy becomes taboo and deletion becomes a sin, the question that arises is not of when the invasions will stop...but when will the next iteration be released?
Despite an interesting and relevant premise, The Circle is not without flaws. Dave Eggers relies too heavily on presumed reader familiarity with current platforms of social media, particularly Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest. There is also a sense of incompletion about the book, as though Eggers originally intended to go back and actually include consistent plot development after the first draft but never really got around to it in the second. The ending is incredibly abrupt, giving the distinct impression that the author suddenly tired of the novel and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. The characters are largely either underdeveloped or flatly unappealing, leaving a sense of ambivalence about their fates. Furthermore, all of the characters that retain power or insight in the novel are male, leaving the women to orbit around them as vague stereotypes. Eggers fails in his attempt to create a well-rounded female protagonist, designing in Mae Holland a main character who is largely flaky and irresponsible in her apparently earnest attempts to assert herself as a mature adult in her new career.
That said, there is still plenty to enjoy in The Circle. The plot--while hardly revolutionary--is sufficiently compelling to maintain interest without requiring a whole lot of contemplation on the part of the reader. The setting of the titular conglomerate is filled without enough detail and imagery to compensate for some of the failures in characterization. Finally, readers are left with a sort of delicious unease with the direction of our modern technology-driven society. Of course, the events of The Circle are hardly likely to unfold any time soon in the real world, but after the conclusion of the novel, there's a definite temptation to maybe shrink away a little bit from social media. Or, you know, to eschew technology altogether and secretly move to a remote cabin in Canada.
The Circle is available for purchase and download from Amazon.