Dave Eggers' New Novel Sharks Its Way Into Your Social Brain
'The Circle' could teach Stephen King a few tricks about horror
By Wayne Alan Brenner, 11:00AM, Mon. Oct. 14
Let me tell you just five things here – like this is a sort of steroidal listicle, a wordier version of something peeled from the mediascape that Dave Eggers conjures so well in his fierce cautionary tale The Circle, OK?
(Then you can give it a LIKE or whatever and maybe leave some shallow comment before clicking over to the next link, the next image, the next attention-suck that'll make you feel slightly more connected to the rest of the world even as it leaches meaning from your life.)
1. The recent New York Times article about Eggers' new novel mentions that the book has risen to #21 in Amazon's rankings, which is – says the article – unusual for literary fiction. Well, you know, maybe that's because The Circle isn't "literary fiction," whatever the hell that wannabe-sophisticate category means these days. [Note: Too often it means "Whether it's my plot, or my characters, or my narrative voice, or some unfortunate combination of those, part of me is simply too fucking boring to read unless you're trying to impress an academic who's holding your sheepskin-fueled career hostage." Which is why, duh, that genre sells so poorly.] Maybe The Circle is "unusual for 'literary fiction'" because it's actually, if any pigeonhole must be filled, a fucking horror novel. Yes, that's right: It's a popular-genre thing, and it's "unusual" only in that it's so well-written – as only the best novels of any genre are, whether they're created by Eggers or Atwood or Lethem or Mantel or Shakar or (RIP) Sturgeon or Hammett or Ballard or whomever.
2. Yes, a horror novel, because – unlike Margaret Atwood's excellent MADDADDAM, which is a science fiction novel, although the dear brilliant woman would contort language and meaning to have you believe otherwise – The Circle – in spite of all its techie paraphernalia and how it's, like, maybe half a decade or so in the future – is not a science fiction novel. It's reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, sure, but without such far-reaching prognostication and with more subtly insidious implications [cue: Radiohead's "Just (You Do It To Yourself)"] and is plotted along the lines of not only some bestselling *fnord* James Patterson thrillride but, more precisely, one of those teen screamers you can see at the multiplex any given summer. Complete with stretchy coincidences and strategic lapses of the protagonist's comprehension, as necessary to make the whole prose-machine work toward its goal of scaring the holy bejesus out of you.
3. The cojones on that Eggers, people, tell you what. Here is a man who provides a central metaphor for his story by having one of his characters drag that metaphor – literally – from the depths of the Marianas Trench and place it (three distinct sets of deep-sea creatures) centerstage in the novel's main setting. "WTF, Eggers?!" you want to shout. "Where do you get the authorial temerity to assay such a blatant, ridicu –" but after another chapter or two it's obvious that 1) the metaphor is a goddam miracle of precision, 2) its literalized presence in the story's milieu makes perfect sense, considering the character who orders it and the other Circle-campus ostentations engaged in, and maybe even 3) it's self-awaredly indicative of the gambits currently attempted for attention in the mediated arena in which this new book from Knopf must compete.
4. This is an important book. It's a moving-right-along condensation of reality, yes; parts of it may seem a bit cartoonish (but even that may be only as they compare to other, more thoroughly limned parts of the same narrative), yes; but, goddamnit, if it's meant to serve as a tocsin for what's going on in the world we live in now, it succeeds admirably. I mean, listen: If you're reading this article online, you need to read this book by Eggers. In fact, regardless that it's also what people would call a good read, if you're alive right now, you should read this book by Eggers. Because it's so relevant. ("How relevant is it, Brenner?" It's almost as relevant as breathing, dear reader, and you'll thank me later.)
5. Oh, the last paragraph of this Circle thing. Boy howdy. Just when you think you've seen enough over-the-top consequences generated by the engines of human hyperconnectivity, of invasive datamining and lifestreaming … the novel ends on a note like not a few horror movies have ended on – as if the author's giving you a sardonic nod, saying, "OK, I'll leave you right here, reader, and you can return to your own life in full knowledge that the shit in this story's world is probably gonna get much worse, exponentially much worse, than it already is on the final page."
CODA: Abandon all hope, indeed. But maybe not in our world.
Maybe especially not if you read this book.