I realize now that I really don’t like these types of book. Call them near-term sci-fi or societal dystopic fantasy or a pretentious author commenting on a geo-political point or comment on some exhausted societal trend through an exaggerated version of real life. In this case Eggers, who has at least two books I’ve enjoyed, writes a thoroughly half-assed attempt at all three and achieves nothing but creating unlikable characters who you’d rather sock in the face than spend one more minute with. Seriously. This book has just about nothing going for it other than its nice orange cover.
The world Eggers sets up is a thinly disguised — though less disguised than just name-changed — Google campus. It’s the setup we’ve seen in a million movies since the 80s. Shoot, it’s practically a direct rip on the non-tech world of The Firm. Here’s our poor, innocent protagonist, Mae Holland, who is earnest as the day is long and she’s just landed the job of a lifetime at The Circle, the company that absolutely everyone wants to work for. Turns out our girl’s [plutonic] girlfriend from college is a big-wig there and has hooked her up with a plum customer service gig.
We watch as Mae gets indoctrinated into The Circle culture, slowly giving herself up to the corporation and gradually surrendering her old life and current privacy in the name of radical transparency. She discovers company secrets that may be innocuous or may be world-changing depending on whether she trusts the sources. Who does she trust? Is her old friend part of the conspiracy or just part of the machine? Is the crazy political correctness and transparency a radical move toward a better world or some sort of Circle end game? Is she too brainwashed by the machine to tell?
Issue is, I so don’t give a shit. The main character is an asshole and those surrounding her are bad caricatures of “tech” leaders and nerds and dudes who apparently keep albino sharks in tanks for no reason. And like most of these types of books, the thing felt dated six months after it was published. It felt like a book written by a person who read a bunch of Eggers clearly had a high concept thing here, probably after reading some New Yorker article about privacy and monopoly concerns about Google being Google and maybe some Gizmodo articles from 2010, but after diving in he realized that he knew nothing about his subject matter and relied instead on his limited imagination and a handful of tech paranoia movies from the 80s and 90s (The Lawnmower Man, The Net, Sneakers and mostly that shitshow, Disclosure.). He tried to apply his generally, smart and “deep” characters to a world that involved way too much plot to allow for anything other than tremendously flat bullshitty, shrill nothings. The women, who are technically the stars of this thing, make me want to stick my hand in a blender. The men make me want to kind of gargle with geodes, they’re such robotic yahoos.
I didn’t have high expectations going into this book, so I guess in theory my low expectation were met. But is this really what we ask of our premiere-ish hipster authors these days?