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Eggers' New Novel Is the Story of Our Times

The Circle by Dave Eggers

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to work for Google, Facebook or even AOL (as I once did), you've got to read Dave Eggers' new novel, The Circle.

The 24-year old protagonist, Mae Holland, thinks she's reached Nirvana - and who wouldn't? The Circle, the Internet company where she's just landed a job, lavishes cool perks on employees: brownies in the fridge,  clean, well-lit workstations, and a company store that stocks pharmaceutical-grade aloe.

It takes a few pages for Mae and the reader to figure out the dark purpose behind such cozy amenities as dorms to stay in after expected late nights: The Circle is using them to ferret out every aspect of its employees' personal lives. And that's a mere dress rehearsal for its larger campaign of amassing a detailed dossier on every citizen in the land.

At a time when stories about the government collection of our phone records evoke shades of 1984, The Circle doesn't seem far-fetched. And my AOL experience tells me that Eggers has set The Circle campus scene with authentic detail. Company cafeteria? AOL had several - but they insisted on calling them "cafés." The place was likewise crawling with bistros (more than a few), kitchenettes with ice machines, a gym, masseurs (yes, I indulged), a dry-cleaning store, pet insurance, and enough Nerfware to insulate my house.

The important point is, the 43-year-old Eggers, best known for his wrenching memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, has penned a fast-paced and suspenseful story - I gulped it down in a day - about what Mae does with her knowledge of her company's intent. He ain't the first to craft a cautionary tale of online excess - Jaron Lanier, for one, did a nice job of that in You Are Not a Gadget (2010) - but in The Circle Dave Eggers has produced the fable for our wired times.

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