Though I was no fan of his first effort – which I affectionately call a Backbreaking Work of Staggering Self-Indulgence – I’ve grown increasingly impressed with Eggers’ work. What is the What is outstanding. Zeitoun is a masterpiece. (Any so-called curricular decision to stop teaching the book because of the protagonist’s subsequent behavior are ludicrous. Are we only to teach books about completely good people? Who gets to decide that standard? And the book itself is like a time capsule. Whatever came later, it captures a moment in time so perfectly that it should endure. But I digress.) I also like Eggers’ work with McSweeney’s (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/) and his 826 centers (http://826national.org/). When I read the excerpt of The Circle in the New Yorker, I was disappointed to find he’d join the ranks of the dystopian writers (Chang-Rae Lee’s decision was equally disappointing). Nevertheless, I read the excerpt and thought, okay, I’ve got this. There was, I thought, no need to read any more.
But I allowed myself to be persuaded by a friend who spoke of it with such enthusiasm. And I wish I hadn’t. Normally, when we say a performance seems effortless, it’s a compliment. An actor, for example, so inhabits a role that we forget s/he’s working. At first, I thought The Circle was effort-less. Then I realized I was wrong; it’s just lazy.
Eggers, in taking shots at Zuckerberg et al (could there be an easier target?), forgot he was writing a novel. We get no real before picture of the protagonist, so her transformation is uninteresting. She becomes one-dimensional but who cares? She’s always been one-dimensional. Every single character, every single moment is superficial. Eggers was so intent on satire that he forgot, in almost 500 pages, that he was writing a story. He does not even bother to try to make us care. Mae’s parents? Cardboard. Her former artist friend? Obvious. (And an artist as a rebel? Really, Dave?) Even the sex scenes are moments of Symbolism 101. There are, maybe, 3 sentences that I admired. Eggers does not just foreshadow, he advertises in neon, and he takes too damn long to do it. Where have all of the editors gone?
And the ending, which I won’t spoil (not that it’ll surprise you a bit if you manage to make it that far), aims for shocking, but lands with a resounding thud. You can’t be surprised by or even care about decisions made by characters who have the substance of balsa wood. Eggers even has to resort to the over-expository dialogue now even mocked in superhero movies to try to redeem this mess.
Eggers so clearly wants everyone to draw connections between his novel and the headlines in order to spook us into some kind of recognition, a recognition that only the blind and stupid haven’t already seen. (If you don’t know the name Edward Snowden, for example, then go ahead, read this book.)
Arthur Miller wrote: “Attention must be paid.” And he’s right. Not to this book, though. It raises nothing new, and is so heavy-handed that I came away feeling not inspired, but insulted. Oh boy, privacy is under attack. And sometimes we’re willing participants in its destruction. This is news?