About a quarter of the way into Dave Eggers’ new novel, Mae is summoned to the office of her immediate superior at The Circle. Mae’s presence has been requested at the behest of Alistair, a developer from another department who is peeved that Mae — after being sent three notices — failed to RSVP for or attend his brunch for staffers interested in Portugal. Her “non-participation,” a mortal sin in the world of The Circle, is grounds for a passive-aggressive tongue lashing from her boss, plus a note on record with HR. When it comes to “engagement,” The Circle don’t play.
As an Eggers fan and closet Luddite, the concept of The Circle appealed to me. The novel is set at a large tech company, whose efficient and superior services have come to dominate the Internet slash world. Mae, a 20-something desperate to escape her job at a local utility, is hired by The Circle on the recommendation of her friend Annie, who is a high-level executive there. Through Mae’s nascent and later significant experiences as a Circle employee, Eggers’ latest chronicles the company itself, a business darling whose thinly veiled aspirations of world domination are excused by its image as a benevolent superpower, intent on making the planet a better place. And while The Circle’s true motives are something of a narrative foil, they also – in the grand scheme of things – don’t entirely matter: Good intentions or bad, is there a point at which the price of omniscience is too high?