Sep 142014

The_circleThe Circle, by David Eggers

Synopsis: Old Man Eggers gripes about social media and kids these days not having enough concern for privacy.

Book Review: Sometimes you hate a book so much you just have to dedicate hundreds of words to expressing that hate. This is one of those books.

I said before that I’m not that great with subtlety, but holy moses does this narrative over do it! Eggers lays it on with a trowel! The first twenty pages are nothing but saying how this company is the best company EVER and Mae loves it SO MUCH and all her previous companies SUCKED and describing in detail just how great every single thing is! An eloquent speaker is shown to be really gifted not by any action on his part (he is entirely ridiculous throughout the book) but by being described as “eloquent and inspirational, so at ease in front of thousands.” Informed Abilities, yay. :/ First the believability of the prose tanked, then the believability of the characters, and then the entire world came soon after. But I’ll get to that.

I’ve also mentioned that I can’t stand plots that only exist because the protagonist is absolutely pathetic, or stupid. Mae is both. She is the most pathetic imitation of a human I’ve seen in ages. Whining, simpering, idiotic, and never once stands up to anyone for anything. When she finds out only 97% of her co-workers love her she starts jibbering about how 300 people despise her and are looking for an opportunity to actually murder her. But if anything she’s above-average for this world, because…

This story could only exist in a world populated by Jersey Shore cast members. The entire world is completely retarded, and entirely self-involved. When it’s revealed that a character’s distant ancestors owned slaves she has a melt-down, and the vast majority of the people around her abandon her because (it is said) everyone believes slave-owning is genetic. Or when the government figures it would be a great idea to allow direct voting on all issues and let a single private company be in charge of all vote counting in the nation. Because that’s exactly the kind of power governments hate holding for themselves!

This book is a modern-day Atlas Shrugged in the feverish way it must warp reality and mutilate human nature in order to make its ideological point. It is an ideological point that pertains only to an imaginary universe, and so completely fails as a wake-up-call or dire-warning or whatever it was trying to do. At least Atlas Shrugged had some damn good Competency Porn to keep me interested. The Circle just has floundering jackasses. And what is the message it’s trying to promote?

Kids these days and their damn social medias!! They’re over-sharing and destroying all privacy!! /cane-shakegrump kong

I took this somewhat personally because I recognized that he was attempting to caricature my culture in the book. It’s like seeing the most grotesque straw-man of your culture being railed against because of the horrors it will impose upon us all, and realizing that someone may think this is actually representative of what anyone sane thinks. (Privacy Is Theft? WTF?)

Reminds me of NPR’s recent idiotic story about Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk” which sparked a minor internet backlash by claiming that most atheists are “Spockians” and “in a Spockian universe there is no such thing as nature, there is just material process, particles and fields, in the void. Nor, for the Spockian, is there any such thing as wonder, not really; for what is an emotion, but a conjury of particles in the nervous system?

Which makes me wonder if the author has ever met a single atheist. While everything in the article is technically correct, the implication is that the world is over-run with Spockians and what we really need is some Kirks to bring humanity to atheism. When in reality the Spock-ism is (at the most) a phase that teenage atheists go through for a few months when they first deconvert, and EVERYONE ELSE who actually exists in the atheist world is VERY MUCH like what the author is impassionately pleading for. It’s like Noe has never read an actual atheist, and is instead stuck with caricatures that the opposition paints of them. I believe that accounts for the vast majority of the negative reaction the article received.

This book is doing the same thing. Being portrayed in such an alien manner and then lectured at for the sins of the caricature is intensely irritating!

Obviously railing against Kids These Days has been popular for millenia, and Eggers is just jumping on the bandwagon (which, BTW, fuck you very much. Millenias are fucking awesome). But here’s the thing, I’m 34 and I don’t even really count as a Millenial. I’m barely a decade younger than Eggers is. I just happen to have friends that are younger than me! How insulated from the younger generation must he be to think this is in any way a decent portrayal?

There was a few people in our book club who really enjoyed the book, one my own age that said it was obviously a hilarious, over-the-top farce. A wacky comedy that is intentionally way out of proportion and ridiculous in order to be funny. Looking back on it, I can see that may have been the intention, but it was poorly executed. It felt much more like an Atlas Shrugged style trainwreck than a Terry Gilliam piece.

But more to the point – it wasn’t self-parody, it was distorting and mocking others. It felt like blackface. The minstrel shows may very well try to excuse themselves by saying “Look, it’s all in good fun! We know black people don’t act like this, it’s just a joke! Can’t you enjoy the comedy?” To which the only reply is Fuck You.

And on a final tangent, aren’t cautionary tales supposed to be about bad worlds? In Atlas Shrugged the entire world falls apart. In 1984 a military dictatorship controls all thought and expression. In The Circle… the vast majority of the population gets exactly the government they want, and they have the tools they need to share everything exactly the way they love to! It’s kinda a utopia for them. Yes, they’re all flaming idiots, but that was presupposed by the world and is not due to the tech we’re being cautioned against. Of the three or four people in the world who actually want privacy, as long as they aren’t friends with Mae they can live as hermits or something. When the overwhelming majority of your population is happy and fulfilled, you have kinda missed the point of a cautionary tale.

So yeah – literally incredible world, unlikeable protagonist, sledgehammer metaphors, stupid message, and pissed me off personally. I realize Eggers is laughing all the way to the bank, but obviously I’m giving this a Flaming Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: I hate to say this, but this was one of our most lively discussions this year. One saw it as hilarious parody, a couple thought the book was a wreck, a couple thought it brought up good points about privacy, and one thought it was a cautionary tale about the danger of cults. Getting a lot of people together who have strong opinions on a book, and having those opinions be greatly varied, makes for good discussion. If you can stomach the book, and you have a moderate+ spread of world-views in your book club, this makes for some really good talking. So, as much as I hated it, I must say that for book club reading: Recommended.

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