The Circle, by Dave Eggers (note: spoiler alert!)
It’s funny, after reading this book I have mixed feelings about posting a review. Part of the genius of The Circle is putting the main character (Mae) in a position we are progressively drawn to question. At the end we must, like Mae’s Luddite ex-partner, Mercer, and even, surprisingly, Ty, the brains behind the Circle itself, renounce the premise of universal sharing.
So the funny feeling comes with this sense of obligation attached to sharing: “Sharing is Caring. Secrets are Lies. Privacy is Theft.” These slogans take us only a half-step from where we are already; yet they also harken back to the propaganda banners of Orwell’s classic cautionary fable, Animal Farm: “War is Peace,” “Slavery is Freedom.” The world of The Circle is the logical extension of our ultra-connected virtual country without borders or boundaries, ruled by NSA, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and texting. The Circle helps us realize that we are poised at the threshold of universal data, in which the domain of private life dissolves into complete “transparency.”
The choice is clear, in the book: the only response to the completing of the circle is to decide, Am I in or out? Mercer chooses out, and that means death, as his backwoods escape is thwarted. As a “follower” of the action, we too can register our response: a smile, a frown. Do we side with that libertarian “Sasquatch” who opts (along with Mae’s parents, and presumably, another minority demographic) to go back to the land, in rural isolation—or with the masses of the public (Mae’s followers) eager to join the crusade of “knowing everything”? In case we are still on the fence, one of the three “Wise Men” of the company behind the Circle bails, and his defection adds weight to the arguments against totalitarian transparency. Against such logic Mae is steadfast, supported by her legions of eager Circlers eager to mandate compulsory inclusion, and indeed by the tide of history in the closing circle of our digital world.
Mae is an ironic heroine, whom we have signed up for as a supporter, because we care about her and she means well. She surpasses her mentor and friend Annie, who breaks under the pressure of her family’s shameful past being exposed. She is that shiny-faced, earnest idealist of the persuasion that what is good for safety and security is good for everyone, all the time.
Is there a middle ground anywhere between the new world order of the Circle and the reclusive privacy of the naysayers? I suppose by sharing this review I am inviting just such an exploration, as indeed Eggers does by offering this one-way mirror of our times.
Buy The Circle from Amazon.