A young woman joins a tech firm with Orwellian ambitions in Dave Eggers's accomplished new novel.
Reviewed for The Barnes & Noble Review by Veronique de Turenne
When we first meet Mae Holland, the naïve – or is it gullible? – protagonist of The Circle, Dave Eggers's new novel, she's agog at the campus of The Circle, the social networking giant where she's just landed a job. It's 400 acres of perfection, all rolling hills and meandering paths, with picnic groves and tennis courts and employee perks like free gourmet meals and daycare for dogs. Even the sky above is a flawless blue.
Mae thinks she's landed in heaven, but Eggers has plotted a swift trip to hell. With a tour guide's zeal, he ushers us into the very near future, where a company that resembles the search-engine giant Google has absorbed Facebook and, as digital palate cleansers, gobbled up Twitter, Instagram, and Paypal as well.
Though The Circle's just four years old, 90 percent of all searches on earth go through it. The company owns 92 percent of all text messaging and controls 88 percent of the world's free-mail (think Gmail) market. But the killer app that secured The Circle's fortunes is TruYou, the online identity that is required of everyone who wants to use any of The Circle's array of indispensable Internet tools. Give just a smidgen of personal information – your real name, which is then tied to your bank accounts, your credit cards, your email accounts, and all of your social media profiles – and "anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable…."
To Mae, it all makes sense. She comes to The Circle fresh from an 18-month stint as a cubicle drone at her hometown utility company, a job that offended her sense of self-worth. In the near-future of Eggers's tale, the deprivations of the Great Recession have ossified into a new normal. Jobs are scarce. A health care plan is a holy grail. For Mae, just 24 years old and carrying $250,000 of college debt, working within The Circle's utopia is the ultimate prize, a rescue she is desperate to deserve.