So, this is awkward. I'm not sure what happened here. Actually, I am totally sure what happened. My entire opinion of the book changed as quickly as the Circle's shark devoured that poor turtle in one of the final scenes. Like Mae, I was so hopeful at the beginning. But, there was degeneration not only in plot, but in form that turned me against the novel in the end.
For one thing, the time lapse got all wonky. On page 309 in my book, Eggers writes, "It ensured that every day was different, and had, in the six weeks she'd been transparent..." Then, just one page later it says, "In the three weeks Mae had been transparent..." This makes a huge difference to me as a reader. Has Mae shot to fame in just three weeks? Or, has it taken her a month and a half to garner an audience? How comfortable is she with her new situation? How can we get comfortable without knowing which is which? For another thing, how have her parents just abandoned her without first trying to save Mae? In what world would two previously loving and adoring parents distance themselves so much from their daughter that it takes a letter from her ex-boyfriend to connect them again in a halfhearted way?
In any event, I stopped siding with Mae, too. Obviously, this was Eggers' intention. He doesn't want the over-the-top, half-reality that he's predicting, so he demonizes the protagonist to show her fall from grace. However, did the novel really have to fall along with it? Time in the first book moved slowly — almost excruciatingly so — but then in the second and third books, time collapses and we find everything in ruin. It's as if it's been sucked into the same vortex that Mae falls into.
Mercer and the Hollands are on the lam for dodging cameras. Annie is losing it, and eventually she’s lost for good, her mind an unknown entity just out of reach.
Here's where you should stop reading if you don't want a healthy dose of spoiler alerts. All at once we find out that Mercer died. That Kalden is actually Ty (the most elusive wise man). And, that Annie is in a coma. Honestly — did anyone really care about these revelations? Okay, that was harsh. But, let's think about this: We never knew Mercer and Mae in love, only how he was as an ex. Not to say we wanted his character killed off, but his ghost-of-cyber-life-future-type of chorus was bound to go south at some point. And, as for Kalden/Ty? I had forgotten that Ty was even a character to begin with. So, when it turns out he runs the place, not only was I not surprised, but I was kind of like, so what? Then, the saddest blow is Annie's mental break. But, at this point, Mae has fallen so far into the Circle that she's only able to emote for her publicly, in an effort to garner public support.
To me, it felt a bit like a perverse Wizard Of Oz. Except, instead of Kalden being the proud wizard behind the Emerald Curtain, he tries to cower from his power. In this case, then, it's actually Mae who is the all-mighty Oz. She's the lion dressed as a lamb. Never is this more powerful than the final scene when Mae looms over Annie wondering what she’s thinking while in a coma and hoping to rectify this “deprivation.”
Nothing is off limits for Mae, and nothing is off limits for Eggers. Death, comas, sex, cameras, drones — it's all on the table. Stylistically, this may be Eggers' attempt at reaching a younger audience — it felt a little heavy-handed. Ultimately, though my taste for the book has gone a bit sour since I started it. (And, how can it not with the way things have gone down?) I stand behind what I said in the beginning. This is a Chinese finger trap of a book. And, whether I like it or not, I'm now considering the verbage and direction of my online and offline interactions. I admit, I've been tangled up in both The Circle and the Circle, and, though it may be uncomfortable I'm still glad I read it. Whether or not I'd give the book a "smile," "zing it," or fill out a survey about it to be filed in a world of approval ratings is a whole other matter.