February 24, 2018

Book Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

For the first time I can remember in a long while, I did not have the endurance to make it through a book. The Circle was patronizing, immature, and (as others have already mentioned) offered nothing new to the conversation. Halfway through the book, I could not recall a single plot development that could not be recreated precisely (often down to the phrasing of the words) from current news or social media. Some speculative literature provides an insightful reflection on human nature; others grant an escape from the world’s worries; Eggers manages to to neither in his work, using such an explicit and leaden pen that one might draw parallels to reading one’s own social media feed.

The third-person limited point of view tries desperately to inspire the reader’s empathy towards the protagonist, but the narrative thrashes between vapid predictability and deplorable decision-making. Typically, a character’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities evoke some measure of compassion from the audience, but I found no such sympathy for a protagonist so passive and malleable to her own surroundings.

Far from edifying or subtly cautionary, the mature content smacked of pretentious gossip and schoolboy fantasies. Was Eggers’s intention to copy the fatuous desires and half-baked relationships of modern society to further condemn the digital age? He only managed to add a veneer of erotic language to lessons that anyone mature enough to read his book could glean just as easily from turning on the television.

In submission, the portion of this book that I forced down my gullet did resonate with my own past experience. The fears and fascinations, challenges and trials that the fictional community faces are present with glaring radiance in my history, and I am by no means worthy of denouncing the lifestyle that this book attempts to critique. But if The Circle wanted to be a parable, it failed miserably: those of us who would benefit from the perspective this book attempts to provide would more likely find the reading experience an act of navel-gazing, while those capable of gleaning the moral by and large have already discovered it from reflection and experience.

Maybe I did not represent the intended audience for Eggers, but to dismiss oneself as inappropriate to judge a work that one found repulsive is a self-pitying cop-out. Dave, I want to receive the message you are trying to express, but please instruct me as an adult would exhort an ignorant child: the sources from which I can revel in darkness with fellow miscreants are, as you say, already far to prevalent.

Have you read the book? Watched the movie? (I haven’t yet… should I?) Whether you loved it, hated it, or fall anywhere in between, I would enjoy hearing your opinions in the comments below!

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