Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Circle

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Circle (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).

To be honest, I had never really been considering the question "What if Google and Scientology merged and set out to control the world?", but for anybody who has pondered this troubling possibility, Dave Eggers' new novel is just right for you.

Having said that, I found this to be a terrific scenario punched in the face by its presentation. Y'all will have to excuse me letting my personal life dip into the reviews here from time to time, but I happen to have a fairly pointy and loud Cult Alarm, which was screaming at me not too long into this narrative. Eggers did an amazing job getting the plaintive, reasonable-sounding questions of cultists dead on target. I often read blogs and advice columns that use cut-tags and other methods to hide potentially upsetting material from sensitive readers, using an expression such as "hidden for triggers." This book needs a trigger warning around page 30 for people who get as grouchy about the subject as I do!

Worsening things exponentially is the problem of the lead character. Her name is Mae, and her college best friend helped her get a position in "customer experience" at The Circle's massive California campus. I should qualify that The Circle is sort of a hodgepodge of search engines and every social media idea, ever. When The Circle tags some old travel photos of Mae's from Portugal and adds her to a "We Like Portugal" group at work but, among the thousands of "zings" and invitations that she receives every workday, she misses one from a co-worker, she hurts his feelings so badly that a work sensitivity session is called. When one of her team leaders, baffled that Mae hadn't updated her social thingummies for about ten hours one Sunday, learns that Mae watched a WNBA game with her ailing dad and later went kayaking by herself, he's offended that she didn't reach out to: Circle WNBA fans, Circle support groups for sick parents, and Circle kayaker updates.

Mae caves. She keeps caving. She wants to fit in.

It's a clever book and a heck of a scam and a heck of a warning, too. But if you're looking for a strong lead character with a bit of backbone, this is so not the book for you. A tepid recommendation, then, with strong caveats.

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