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If you remember 1984 and Animal Farm from high school or college reading requirements, The Circle by Dave Eggers will sound familiar. It’s just that Eggers, who has nothing on George Orwell, offers a contemporary setting in a Googlesque-complex in Northern California. The concepts of Big Brother and following the pack are nearly the same.

Mae, short for Maybelline, has just been hired by the prestigious organization thanks to Annie, beloved by her work colleagues and Mae’s former college roommate. Landing a position not only gets Mae out of a dead-end job, it provides an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of social change.

The Circle, the company’s name, thrives on numbers in the form of clicks, responses to surveys, extracurricular activities and tracking followers that makes Twitter and Facebook look like make-believe social media.

Mae’s initial job is in customer service. Her employers, from lower management to the triumvirate who founded the Circle, manipulate through passive-aggression and let the numbers speak for themselves: the higher the percentage or score, the better – no matter at what cost.

The trouble is that Mae is not all that likeable. Annie is far more interesting, but it turns out that her role is not much than that of a door opener. A former boyfriend, Mercer, provides a dissenting voice, but he’s one-dimensional with little chance of being heard.

Privacy, transparency, friendship and trust are all addressed here. While these are important themes, the characters are not strong enough to bear their weight.

The Circle

Three Bookmarks

Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

491 pages

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