Step away from whatever tweet you’re composing for your 484 followers. Don’t click ”like” on that Facebook photo of a friend’s kids. Dave Eggers’ chilling and enormously absorbing new novel The Circle, about the encroaching tentacles of the world’s most powerful Internet company, demands your thoughtful and committed attention.
When we first meet Mae Holland, she is young and restless, resentful of her ordinary 9-to-5 job in her drabby hometown. When a friend hooks her up with an entry-level job at the Circle, a shiny Silicon Valley Internet company that screams Google, it’s like Mae has been granted access to paradise: lush lawns, clean architecture, locally sourced gourmet cafeteria food. In exchange for such bounty, she need only share all of herself online, labeling every thought and action with a Frown or a Smile. Soon Mae has nine hungry screens at her sleek desk that demand data and Zings, and she’s being pulled into HR for failing to post about an off-hours solo kayaking trip. ”How do you think other Circlers feel,” her supervisor tells her, ”knowing that you’re so close to them physically, that you’re ostensibly part of the community here, but you don’t want them to know about your hobbies and interests?”
Eggers never takes his foot off the gas as Mae plunges deeper into the cult of the Circle. He breaks his story — which is a good 50 pages too long — into three parts, each told with a sense of breathless, building dread. Mae’s former boyfriend Mercer, a Luddite craftsman, serves as a too-preachy voice of dissent. But it’s not the memory of Mercer’s thunderous speeches that might make you feel queasy about logging back on to social media after finishing the book. It’s the fear that you might be more like Mae than you care to admit. B+