I enjoyed The Circle right from the first few pages. Mae Holland is a millennial drudge, working at a public utility company that’s about as innovative as a rotary phone. Her boss, a mustachioed cliché of loser middle-management types, says things like “This is my protégé, Mae. She’s pretty sharp, most days,” and “If she doesn’t get in her own way, she has a bright future ahead of her here,” despite the fact that Mae would rather set her hair on fire than progress through the ranks of the cubicle-ridden utility company. She’s drowning in boredom and student debt.
Realizing she’s on the verge of petrification, Mae decides to cash in some chips: her college roommate, Annie, is now part of the “gang of 40”— the top forty executives— at the world’s most exciting tech company. Immediately, Annie gets Mae a job at The Circle.
I loved Eggars’ descriptions of The Circle. Picture all the newfangled glass-and-steel Silicon Valley workplaces you’ve read about, and amp them up a thousandfold until you reach a place of such sun-infused perfection that its workers prefer to live on-site. It has Borrow Rooms full of luxuries like telescopes and hang gliders— yours for the taking. There are daily on-site concerts and parties and sought-after speakers. Free top-quality insurance and you can add any family member—even your parents—on. Co-workers whose visionary brilliance glows with the strength of a nuclear reactor, constantly improving and enhancing the world. The central concept of The Circle is a simple one: one tech company that combines all aspects of online life—social media profiles, payments, passwords, email, preferences—into one unified operating system. In one fell swoop, everything becomes easy. Trolls are eliminated, because everything you do is tied to your real name. There’s no more identity theft, no more password catastrophes, no more porn.
At first Mae revels in this Utopia, becoming a whiz at her entry level customer satisfaction job. A few chinks in the armor gradually reveal themselves— the brilliant co-workers occasionally turn out to be hypersensitive weenies, requiring constant validation—but this is tolerable. Mae can handle it. She meets a guy, she has a fling. Then she meets another guy, a mysterious loner with opaque motives, and this one gets under her skin. At the same time, the industry-wide priorities of The Circle are overtly shifting. It becomes apparent that the leaders of The Circle have an ultimate motive not everyone will like. Mae, whose competence has vaulted her into the inner circle of The Circle, has to decide whether or not she’ll stand against the swelling tide of a secret-free society.
Eggers writes with his usual razor-sharp prose, albeit with less character development than you see in most of his work. This is a thriller, snappy and unsubtle in its message, and you’ll be able to see it on the big screen this spring: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcyadhtHPug&feature=youtu.be
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