Dave Eggers’ newest novel is a work of nightmarish proportions.
It’s a look at one possible version of a specifically-westernized apocalypse, an overblown tale of what happens when power is first given an inch, but takes a mile.
“The Circle,” both the title of the novel and the name of the murky corporation which engulfs the plot, conducts its business, at least primarily, with the noblest of intentions. Heroine Maebelline (who goes by Mae), is the wide-eyed, perfectly capable 20-something not unlike much of the staff of any other slick, modern-day social media behemoth.
And like these present-day behemoths, the near-but-unspecified-future world that The Circle (the fictional company) dominates worships at the feet of a single word: connection. Words like community, change and future also get thrown around amidst Eggers’ prose, all to demonstrate how this unsettling utopia is not unlike the strivings of our current situation.
Soon, The Circle, formerly a company simply charged with leading the social media frontier, finds itself (or one could argue forces itself) in league with the likes of politicians. Instead of words like connection, Eggers, along with the figureheads of the company, begins tossing around words like transparency and rights, to the delight of the novel’s brainwashed subordinates.
The company even goes so far as to etch the slogan “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN” on obvious spots around its lush Southern California campus.
Perhaps this work as a cautionary tale about totalitarianism is seen a long way coming, but Eggers gleefully embraces this particular form of technological horror story the way a rebellious adolescent would approach black market fireworks: hoping for spectacle, not caring so much about how the spectacle happens.
There’s few weaknesses in the complex system that makes up the framework of The Circle. It is a juggernaut force that plows over the best intentions of the characters housed within it, who are so caught up in The Circle’s whims that it borders on a special type of stupidity.
But bluntness, I think, is Eggers’ whole point. I need only remember how it’s rumored that folks rarely say hello in public anymore because they’re always typing something to someone else, somewhere else. This is the generalization, of course, but in Eggers’ fantasy world the generalizations are the rule of a twisted and obsessed future, a future much like ours could be, even if it’s still 100 years out.
As one of the novel’s few level-headed souls remarks warningly to our beloved Mae, “No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing.”
It’s in this moment where Eggers jumps to the cadence he’s been dying to sing the whole time, a warning for the rest of us still on the outside—hands clutched around iPhones—to get out of the circle while there’s still time.