I've written before about the fact that Dave Eggers seems to be a "love him or hate him" kind of author. While he might not be quite that polarizing, I think it's at least safe to say that there are a lot of skeptics when it comes to his work. It's also safe to say that I'm not one of them. I'm always eager to see what he will do next, which it why I was glad when I finally had the chance to read his latest novel, The Circle. In it, as in his past novels, Eggers creates a world and commits to it, giving the impression that its one he's intimately familiar with. This time around, that world is the corporate landscape of The Circle, a technology company that's the successor to Facebook and Google in the not-too-distant future. We're brought into that world through Mae Holland, a young woman who leverages a college friendship to gain a sought after entry level job at The Circle. Through her eyes we see all of the amenities of The Circle's idyllic campus: free food, state of the art offices, sprawling grounds where free concerts and activities are held for employees. Gradually, other details with more sinister undertones emerge about life at The Circle, like when additional computer screens appear at Meg's workstation (she gets up to seven or eight) so that she can devote more time to mandated participation on the company's social media streams, or when she's reprimanded for leaving The Circle's campus to spend time with her family. The ominous goals of The Circle soon become clear to the reader, who's left to wonder whether or not Mae will realize them for herself before the novel's end.
The Circle presents an interesting concept overall, but works better as a fictional cautionary tale rather than as an effective novel. There isn't much of a story arc and the ending seemed particularly dissatisfying. Various details about the world of The Circle and about the new products they create do provide Eggers with a platform for thought-provoking commentary on what the boundaries of social media should be and on the potential absurdities of a world in which people are too busy "liking" things online to actually like anything in real life. His arguments are engaging, but could have easily been conveyed through a short story rather than a 500-page novel.