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[personal profile] rsadelle
I now belong to two book clubs, and one of them read The Circle by Dave Eggers as this month's book. I disliked it so much that I had to stop reading several times to say, "I hate this book," out loud even though I live alone and there was no one to hear me. I also tweeted about it as I went along. (The irony is not lost on me.) One of my friends in an email said she read the Wikipedia summary and asked what I didn't like about the book. My answer got long, so here it is edited into a post. Note that this includes spoilers for the entire book all the way through the ending.

I didn't like anything in the book. It was such a straight white dude wrote this kind of book, and there was no subtlety or nuance to it at all. The concept of The Circle the company is that it started with TruYou, which is basically a single sign-on for everything online. There was some opposition at first, but then everyone saw it was the best thing to do, and now it's universal, and also now that no one is anonymous, people behave better online. Maybe this was more believable when the book came out? Now it's obvious that people feel perfectly comfortable saying shitty/threatening things under their own names. And we now know that plenty of people will speak up about the reasons real name policies are a bad idea. Also, and this is a recurring unaddressed problem with everything The Circle does: this assumes that everyone has the same values/opinions about what's okay and what isn't.

Mae, the main character, has no personality, and also has apparently never heard of a surveillance dystopia (she went to Oberlin, so it's not like she didn't have a basic liberal arts education) because The Circle is so obviously evil and she never sees it. And then we have to slog through literally 300 pages of The Circle's obvious descent into surveillance overlord mixed with oh look at how startup/tech culture demands employees commit ridiculously, which is also super obvious. I'm pretty sure I read something that referred to it as a satire of tech culture, but I kept thinking, "I get it already," as I was reading it. Much of it is pretty stomach-turning; if you really must read the book, skip all this nonsense and start on page 292.

The counter to The Circle is Mae's ex-boyfriend Mercer, who is way over the top in his objections to technology (it's a little more realistic to start, but then in reaction to Mae always being online and never talking to him as a person it gets dramatic fast) to the point that it's hard to take him seriously at all. Also, Mae repeatedly calls him fat (in the narrative, not to his face) as an insult, which was really jarring and icky to me.

In the last conversation with Bailey (one of the Three Wise Men) that leads Mae to "go clear" (I'd like to think the terminology is a specific reference that underscores The Circle's cult-like nature, but I'm not sure I believe Eggers is that clever) and start wearing a camera all the time, he tells her that his brother is gay and imagine if we could know everyone's sexuality. Then everyone would see that about 10% of people are gay and there wouldn't be homophobia anymore, which is the point at which I would have thrown the book across the room if I did things like that. It's so offensive and such a straight white dude way to think and there isn't anything in the text to tell us that we/the author are supposed to find it horrifying. (I keep thinking about this bit and about how many LGBTQ+ kids get thrown out of their homes by their parents. Clearly knowing someone you love is LGBTQ+ doesn't necessarily change your mind.) That conversation is also where he leads Mae around to thinking that if everyone were on camera all the time and knew it, they wouldn't do bad things. At no point does anyone in the book think to point out that some people don't think there's anything wrong with things that other people think are terrible.

There could be a good book in it once Mae starts wearing cameras all the time, but it's still so cartoonish about the escalation of surveillance society. There's a whole subplot about a shark, an octopus, and a pregnant seahorse brought up from the Marianas Trench and installed in an aquarium at The Circle. The shark will eat and digest anything, and then they put the three of them in the same tank so they're like they are in the wild, and of course the shark eats the octopus, the seahorse, and the seahorse babies while Bailey looks on in horror and Stenton (one of the other Three Wise Men) is happy about it because apparently Eggers thought The Circle wasn't obviously evil enough without a super obvious shark metaphor. But then there are also places where it seemed like they should have been more evil: after Mae suggests that all voting should be done through TruYou, they have a vote at The Circle and one of the questions is about whether or not there should be a drone strike on a terrorist given whatever parameters. The Circle employees vote smile (yes) by a large margin, and then it doesn't go anywhere with that and instead Mae focuses on how many people voted frown (no) to the question about if she's awesome.

The very short third part starts with, "To have gotten so close to apocalypse - it rattled her still," and then goes on about how Mae turned in Ty and saved The Circle. I think we're supposed to be surprised that she sided with The Circle, but since she never actually wavers and there is no real/realistic opposition voice, it isn't surprising at all.

Also, two random clearly written by a white dude things that bothered me: 1. White people are never described as white, but people of color are described by their ethnicity. 2. There's a part where Mae is in the bathroom and Kalden calls to tell her to stay there, he's coming to her. She checks to see that she has a condom in her purse. Who takes their purse to the bathroom at a desk job? (This whole scene is such a gross, unbelievable male power fantasy, but that bit was the part where the details dramatically failed.)

My book club is also seeing the movie after our meeting; we'll see if it makes for a better movie than book.

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Date: 2017-05-07 12:14 pm (UTC)
hypertwink: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hypertwink
Save yourself, the movie is just as bad from what I hear.

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Ruth Sadelle Alderson

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