Friday, November 8, 2013

Five Tips On How To Enjoy Dave Eggers' The Circle

David Foster Wallace once said something to the effect that a good book teaches you how to read it. That is precisely the case with Dave Eggers' hilarious new dystopian satire The Circle — about a young-20s woman named Mae, and her meteoric rise through a Google-like company dedicated to making everyone's lives better and more efficient. (Or, taking over the world. Whichever.)

From signals very early on in the novel (and over the course of the rest it, as well), we learn quickly not to take this too seriously. It's a novel that's very much intended to be funny. And it really, really is. From the ultra-cheesy product names that "Circlers" introduce with pure earnestness — like a camera called SeeChange, or (my personal favorite) a way to vote electronically called Demoxie (democracy + moxie, natch) — to the goofy slogans like "All that happens must be known," and "Privacy is theft," this is less like Orwell's 1984 and more like Bill and Ted's 1984. 

But so, the novel has been getting somewhat mixed reviews, which, to some degree I guess I understand. If you read it as a serious cautionary tale about the dangers of technology, then, yeah, I can imagine you might push back and label Eggers a Luddite and his novel a clunky mess. But I don't think that's the case. I loved this book. And think you will too, especially if you keep in mind these five tips:

1. Don't go in expecting to dislike it — For whatever reason (I'm at a loss to explain this), Dave Eggers has become a target of cynicism, so some readers have gone in to this novel sharpening their hatchets. I don't get this — for Eggers or for any novel. It's a lot more fun to go in expecting to enjoy a novel. So do that.

2. These are serious issues, but a not-very-serious novel — As Jon Stewart and The Simpsons say, "Mmmm...that's good satire." Yes, the issues Eggers brings up — disappearing privacy, addiction to social media, one company ruling the world (?) — are real issues, and if you do a thought experiment (which, in some ways, this novel is) about taking all these issues to the worst possible place, then yeah, shit! This is scary. But Eggers isn't really worried about that. And we know he's not because he has too much fun making fun of all these possibilities to believe he actually thinks things like cameras literally everywhere could really happen. Here's another random example of how funny this novel is: Mae has just been recorded getting frisky with her new boyfriend. She's furious, and asks him to delete the video. But he won't, and her friend Annie explains why: Because, for the leader of the Circle, deleting information is like killing babies. "He'd weep. It hurts him personally," she explains to Mae. Mae replies: "But this baby's giving a handjob. No one wants that baby. We need to delete that baby." I mean......

3. This isn't OUR America. It's a dystopian version of our America — "My God, Mae thought. It's heaven." That's the opening line of the novel, and it's quite the ironic tone-setter. Dystopia is only dystopia to those who aren't on board. But what really indicates that this story doesn't take place in the real world is that almost none of the things that happen in this novel could realistically happen in real-life (politicians wearing cameras 24/7 so that they're totally transparent, for instance). Oh, and one point there's a reference to the demise of Facebook. Yeah, this isn't the real world.

4. Of course, the technology is ridiculous. Of course it is — Eggers has gotten dinged a lot for not understanding technology, being way too simplistic, and writing about totally unrealistic tech products — like the product the Circle is founded on called TruYou, an online profile which allows you, from one profile, to comment on blogs, zing (the Circle version of Twitter), pay bills, store passwords, find love, and do just about everything else on the Internet. Of course, it (and many of the other products the Cirlce has created) is ridiculous. But you don't think Eggers knows that? Give him some credit. He's not a stupid guy.
5. Accept that it's far from perfect. But it's still pretty good — At some point, all the product presentations start to get a bit repetitive and silly. Eggers has made his point, but he continues to hammer it home. What's more, there's a lot about kayaking. Mae kayaks. A lot. The kayaking parts were boring. And I can certainly see how women would be annoyed by Mae — she's a bit flighty and constantly finds herself in the thrall of lust for no particular reason. Eggers doesn't write female characters well, that's for sure.

But so, to conclude, I'd definitely recommend The Circle — as long as you can laugh with it, not at it. It's a fast-paced, fun read.


  1. Even though I've been seeing reviews all over the spectrum, I still picked up a copy of this last week. So glad I saw this before reading it - now I'm really looking forward to it!

  2. It sounds funny. ... in a spoofy kind of way.