Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Circle by Dave Eggers

I read The Circle by Dave Eggers for the One Book, One LibraryThing initiative.

Mae is stuck in a dead-end job at the public utilities in the town where she grew up. Desperate for a better position, she swallows her pride and approaches her college friend Annie, who is a high-ranking employee at The Circle, the company that has revolutionized social media and online interaction. When Mae is hired on in an entry-level position at The Circle, she is ecstatic. The campus is huge, offering seemingly limitless perks to its employees, from a sample room full of free clothes and products, to dorms where staff can stay if they are working late or attending a social function. The workload is challenging, but Mae finds that she can easily keep up, and she loves the constant feedback from both customers and her supervisors, so she always knows exactly where she stands. In fact, by increasing her social media interactions, she can actually improve her standing among her fellow employees. Granted, this leaves little time for any non-Circle interactions with family or former friends, but it's a small price to pay to be part of the company that is creating the future of the Internet. And the more Mae rises in the staff hierarchy at The Circle, the more she buys in to its philosophy of transparency.

I found this an enjoyable enough read -- not a favorite, and certainly not one that I want to purchase and reread, but I didn't hate every minute of it, either. On the positive side, it was a fast, gripping read, which I finished in a couple of days. I thought the setting was good (I could clearly picture the campus, even though parts of it seemed impractical -- multi-level glass dining area, really?), and I did spend a lot of time thinking about what my responses would be if I were in Mae's shoes. Since I'm sure that's what the author intended, the book was a success on that front.

On the other hand, the book does suffer from a few basic issues -- it's message-heavy, for one thing, and none of the characters are particularly likeable. Also, the author obviously didn't do his homework in several areas, leading to some factual inaccuracies that can take the reader right out of the story. Mae is also not particularly believable as a woman, nor does her character show much depth. The latter may have been an authorial choice rather than an unintentional flaw, but the former is almost certainly a weakness in the writing. Also -- I'm not sure if this is actually a negative, but I knew one of the major plot twists early on. It didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story; on the contrary, I felt quite pleased to be vindicated when that plot twist was revealed! However, I did wonder why Mae didn't see through it sooner.

I'm really looking forward to the big group discussion about this book, as I know it has engendered a lot of strong reactions, both positive and negative.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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