The Circle by Dave Eggers centers on a recent college graduate (presumably in the near future) named Mae, who is lucky enough to land a job working for a company called The Circle. It is a company that bears many similarities to the Silicon Valley corporations we know: a cutting-edge innovator of all the latest in practically everything, headed by a trio of genius personalities. The story follows not only Mae's work life, but also her relationships with her parents and friends, her love life, and her personal thoughts and desires. She feels extremely privileged to be working at The Circle and is determined to shine in its glamorous and fast-paced environment. She is not a particularly remarkable character, but is relatable and sympathetic, and her situation is intriguing enough to want to follow. Early on in the story, I found myself rooting for Mae in her new job, cringing at her mistakes and cheering when she recovered gracefully and received small promotions and praise.
As I read, I often got the feeling that the culture in The Circle is different than the American culture I know, in subtle ways I couldn't quite put my finger on. The culture of Mae's family and other characters living outside The Circle does indeed seem mundane, exactly like the one we live in, with nothing different or exciting. Within The Circle, however, the degree to which everyone reveres information, feedback and social media etiquette, while inspiring at first, becomes disconcerting and frustrating. I was annoyed by and dismissive of characters who blindly value "smiles" (akin to liking something on Facebook) from strangers and extreme transparency. These characters became harder to dismiss, however, as it became more difficult for me to identify why they made me uncomfortable. Mae assimilates faster and faster to her new culture, but I struggled more with each page to answer questions Mae does not seem to stop and ask.
Before reading The Circle, I had heard mixed reviews of it. A few said it is profound with ominous overtones, but many others found it to be mundane, even boring. After finishing the book, I somehow felt that both of these opinions ring true. While the characters were often maddening and lack complexity, the questions raised in The Circle are pointed, relevant and sometimes disturbing questions that I am unable to stop thinking about.
~Rachel, Technical Services