So, I finished the Eggers book and I feel conflicted about it. On the one hand, I tore through it and was intrigued by the central mystery, or maybe more the heavy feeling of doom that hangs over the text. I liked the main character’s descent into, virtually, madness, and the development of her addiction to social media.
But the book was a bit preachy; and I am not speaking from some place of defensiveness, like “Dave Eggers is attacking my generation’s way of life!” Not at all. I blog intermittently on WordPress or Tumblr, but I have never had a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I am not morally opposed or anything; I just never saw the need. So it’s not that I think the book is too harsh on social media or something like that—if anything, if you remove the social media element, it still reads as an interesting analysis or depiction of mass fervor, of the way a society slips under one tyrannical thumb.
But there are some parts that are just heavy-handed. For one thing, the shark. The shark metaphor was clear enough, probably too clear, before Eggers went ahead and spelled it out in the final chapter. And while Eggers’ post-private world felt well-realized, did his characters? This was the big struggle for me. The main character, Mae, is so intensely unlikable, selfish and, worst of all, stupid. But does that make her not fully developed? And if she feels empty, wouldn’t that be a realistic symptom of the character traits valued in the book’s world? I keep thinking of this novel I read a few months ago, The Art of Fielding. It was so excellent because the characters were, whether likable or not, living and breathing people. I could imagine talking to them in real life. They felt like they would exist in the real world. Eggers’ characters never approached that for me, but again, maybe that’s because nobody really exists in the Circle’s world—except for digitally. The people are so focused on the construction of their identities that they are not fully alive. They are like impressions of human beings. Which is exactly how they felt on the page.
So while the writing may have been good, the character work logical, it put me in an uncomfortable place as a reader; because Mae was so self-absorbed, I acted as judge or scolding parent. Making the reader her friend, pulling the reader into her world rather than simply letting us judge it from a place of moral authority, would have the greater challenge, I think.