Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

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4/5 Stars.

Look, it’s didactic and heavy-handed, okay? And Eggers is sort of unabashedly prone to proselytizing. His protagonist is frustratingly meek. And maybe not all of his ideas are completely fresh. But none of this changes the fact that The Circle is a hell of a fun read. A serious page-turner. I didn’t want to put it down. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror—most notably Nosedive or The Entire History of You. I don’t even care about all the obvious flaws because I enjoyed it so much.

The Circle is the world’s largest internet company, and 24-year-old Mae is lucky enough to land an entry-level job there. If you’ve ever worked at a hip startup or a tech company, you’ll grin knowingly at Eggers’ satirical portrait of company culture: the ever-expanding number of computer screens per employee; the insistence that it’s not all about work, it’s also about community, but curiously enough, being part of the community starts to feel like work, too.

Working at the Circle feels like a dream come true for Mae, and she’s desperate to impress her peers—even as the constant demand for in-person socialization and online participation in the Circle’s social network begins to take over her life. Soon enough, Mae is sleeping at the Circle’s on-site dorms and spending all of her time in this cult-like environment in an effort to raise her personal participation score and improve her rank at the company. As one of her old friends eventually points out, she’s creating the illusion of living an interesting life, but she’s not really living.

At the Circle, everything is tracked and ultimate transparency is the utopian ideal. What if you could know everything? Wouldn’t it be nice to eliminate uncertainty? If we were all being watched, would it not result in a more moral way of life?

As Mae is deeper ingrained in the Circle, she inadvertently becomes a necessary component of the company’s more nefarious ambitions until she’s in completely over her head. In this fascinating, visionary novel, Eggers explores the notions of technology, information, privacy, surveillance and transparency. What’s eeriest of all is that the dystopian nightmare he has imagined doesn’t seem very far off from our current world.

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Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

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3/5 Stars.

The opening chapter of this (sort-of) memoir blew me away: Eggers’ mother is dying of cancer, and the way he describes it is messy and sad and, yes, funny. Both of his parents die within weeks of each other and it’s so tragic it’s almost unfathomable. I was into it, and then the rest of the book happened…and I just didn’t really care about anything that was happening anymore: Eggers, the legal guardian of his young brother, living life as a listless twenty-something in San Francisco in the 90s.

Full disclosure: I was worried going into this that my love for David Foster Wallace would taint my enjoyment of it. That Eggers would inevitably come across to me as the lesser of the two PoMo Daves. Maybe I would have appreciated it more otherwise, but so much of it felt derivative, and I kept thinking to myself that I wish I was reading DFW.

I actually really enjoyed Eggers’ postmodern gimmicks: the notes and acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, people breaking character in the middle of a conversation to provide meta literary analysis (via Eggers) of what’s currently happening. That sense of clever self-awareness is prevalent throughout, and it’s smart and it’s interesting: it provides a worthy commentary of memoirs as a literary art form, and is a bold achievement of brutally honest self-analysis. These were my favorite parts of the book aside from the first chapter.

The thing that’s lacking, though (and the thing that DFW really nailed) is sincerity. Eggers may be authentic, sure, but he maintains a comfortable distance from emotion and sincerity. In fact, he’s actually pretty insufferable and obnoxious. His own sense of self-importance and self-obsession is on full display. And look, I understand and appreciate that his solipsism is a method of coping with the close proximity he feels to death. I get that he thinks that if he shares his suffering, he may succeed in diluting it and proving to himself that he suffered for a reason. After all, this whole thing is, of course, his attempt at coping with the tragedy of his parents’ death.

The thing is…I don’t really believe any of it. I don’t believe him. And so AHWOSG never really transcended for me. It sort of just felt like an exercise in postmodernism for the sake of it, and it’s hard as a reader not to feel cheated by that.

And honestly, maybe this is what he was going for: maybe we should feel cheated by memoirs.

There’s a sense of mania throughout, and a strong undercurrent of anger. I appreciate that anger, I even appreciate the stoicism and flippancy. I get it. I just craved some sincerity. Ultimately there wasn’t enough here to justify all the time spend enduring his ego.