Last we checked in, things were heating up for Mae and getting complicated over at the Circle. She's torn between a guy that follows all the rules and a guy that won't stick around long enough to explain his own rules. We'll get into that shortly. But, Mae's also stuck between the new and the old. She’s fully participating in tech culture — and is a model employee. But, when she engages with the natural world through secret kayaking trips, she’s still got her foot (or paddle) in the past. And, therein lies the rub.
Mae's sense of wonder (that I mentioned at the end of last week's review) is fully indulged and turned on its head when she follows Kalden to the storage box for SeeChange footage. It's here, physically, in the underbelly of the company that she gets more than she’s bargained for. She loses herself. She loses herself to Kalden and she wriggles herself free from the Circle's grip — at least momentarily. It's supposed to feel wrong, or at least so wrong it's right. For one thing, she doesn't know this guy. For another, she's at work — a workplace that she knows is rigged with cameras! Still, Kalden is so mysterious and so reckless, how can Mae help herself? And, this scene humanizes her, right? As a reader, I understand Mae's urge to spin a little out of control. Especially when she's so monitored (literally with cameras, her screens, and her health watch) at all other times, in all other places. But, in doing this, is she becoming an enemy of the state? Or, is she feeding into the machine, reinforcing the Circle? Kalden, after all, works there, too.
If her first instinct was correct, that the Circle is heaven, it's almost as if her coital romp with Kalden is like Eve biting the apple. And, indeed, after this encounter, he is all Mae thinks about. There's no going back. She lies to Annie, however, seemingly not because she is ashamed — and why should she be — but because she wants to protect the secret. Secrets, we later come to find out, are lies.
This taboo scenario is in direct contrast to Francis and his LuvLuv presentation. In the light, on a stage, his work is the complete antithesis of the dark illicit cave where Mae felt a true connection (albeit a sexual one). Up there, in front of the company, Francis reveals bits and facts about Mae that could be found online, if one cared enough to connect the dots. Interestingly, Mae is more mortified by surface-level factoids (her allergy to horses, for example), than by the idea of getting naked with a near stranger, potentially in front of hidden cameras. Or, grinding in a work bathroom stall. Later on, she explains to Wise Man Eamon Bailey that Francis' facts didn't give the full picture of her personality. It was incomplete and that's what made her so uncomfortable. Why then, couldn't she understand that sharing Mercer's personal artistry with her social network would make him feel uncomfortable?
In any event, Mae's confusion isn't rectified until a climax toward the end of Book I. (By the way, I didn't even know I was in Book I until they announced the start of Book II.) She's reprimanded for hiding her kayaking trip, her only moment of solitude. In fact, she's reprimanded for seeking solitude. For embracing personal experience. For covering her tracks. In an infuriating sequence of twisted logic and fear tactics, Eamon Bailey convinces Mae that stealing the kayak was perhaps not as wrong as keeping her love of kayaking from her fellow Circlers.
This passage is perhaps the most heavy-handed of the entire book. And, probably willfully so. It's the Circle against the individual. It's a kind of mental-beating-into-submission scenario where Mae abandons her beliefs for Bailey's. She does it for the sake of her job, probably, and her father's health — and for Annie, whom she doesn't want to embarrass. But, was Annie's initial tour through Bailey's office a test of will and honesty? Did she know that Mae would later find herself there? How much of the temptation Mae has faced has been intentional? How much of it was part of the Circle? Who is watching? And, most important, is Kalden part of all of this, too?
I'm glad that there was finally a marked shift, even if it was laid on real thick. Mae's decision to go transparent at the end of Book I indicates a larger shift for Book II. There will be no more secrets. For the most part, what the reader knows about Mae, others in the world of The Circle will know, too. She's will no longer be a newbie. She'll be a leader, participating in a new social experiment. Still, how much of this is her and how much of it is the Circle? Is it the Kalden/cave side of Mae or the Annie/Francis/presentation side of Mae? How will her family react? And, will the girl go kayaking again? 'Cuz, honestly, I loved those parts.
Sound off in the comments below about what you're expecting to come and/or how you're feeling about our leading lady right now. And, join us on Friday, February 28 for the final discussion of The Circle by Dave Eggers.