You know how Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist introduces the titular character at a low point in his life? Well, Eggers kind of does the opposite here. Even before the opening line, "My God, Mae thought. It's heaven," the epigraph sets the tone for a glorious high-high start. Eggers quotes John Steinbeck's East Of Eden, "There wasn't any limit, no boundary at all, to the future. And it would be so a man wouldn't have room to store his happiness." And, off we go.
It may sound like over promising, but on this, Mae's first day at the world’s most influential company, the bright-eyed beginning makes sense. As we tour the sprawling campus, it truly seems as if there are no limits to the wonderful things this company can accomplish. All the while, the Circle maintains the spirit of a start-up, with quirky buildings with quirkier names, and coworkers that will go out of their way to prank you. And, prank they do, when Annie — the godsend of a friend/coworker/Circle exec — leads a heist to swap out Mae's fresh work station with (gasp!) an old dial-up computer and hideous cubicle. Mae only finds humor in the ol' switcheroo when she realizes it's just a joke, a little "Welcome to the Circle" gag.
In comparison to Mae’s old gig, this shiny-and-new establishment is like a vision of the future. On page 11, Mae reminisces about her time working a clerical job back home. "It was sickening, all of it. The green cinderblocks. An actual water cooler. Actual punch cards...And the hours! Actually nine to five! All of it felt like something from another time, a rightfully forgotten time..." The Circle is not just a business, it's a vortex where antiquity goes to die. It as if once you enter the campus, everything behind you vanishes. You are actually participating in the future.
Though Mae starts in Customer Experience, her fervor for all things Circle helps her get noticed, fast. She is a wiz with her customer interactions, and during the book's first 100 pages, she kicks things into overdrive in order to keep all of her vital metrics up. But, it's not just Mae. Everyone is drinking the futuristic Kool-Aid. Or, in this case, Riesling hidden behind man-made waterfalls.
It's over the aforementioned hidden Reisling that Mae bonds with the bright, albeit awkward, developer Francis, who will become one of two kind-of-love, kind-of-lust, kind-of-annoying interests. He is working on ChildTrack, a program that will ensure no child is ever lost or harmed again. This comes from an honest place, sure, given the past abduction of Francis' sisters, but at the cost of an implanted microchip? Red flag, anyone?! Not for Mae, at least.
Mae remains unfazed (at least for now). Unfazed because she's happy to be in a happy place. Unfazed because she's making her loving parents proud. Unfazed, too, by the mysterious "Kalden," who goes against the well-lit grain, sticking to the shadows. He's kind of like Francis' foil and the Circle's antithesis in every way. And, if this "heaven" has "no boundary at all," as Steinbeck and Eggers suggest, Kalden might just be its fallen angel. Most shockingly, perhaps, the man is untraceable. Yes, even on the company's seemingly infinite operating system.
There's much more to get to — Mae's tranquil kayak escape, Mercer, SeeChange — but I'd love to hear how you think these fit into the overall themes of wonder and awe that play a big role in the book's opening. Mae is taken aback, at first, by the campus, busily familiarizing herself with both the lay of the land and her actual duties. However, she also openly wonders about the dark side, about Kalden, whose name means "golden something." Kalden who can "slip away" just as easily as he shows up. Kalden who can make Mae pause and daydream in the middle of her endless deluge of work. There seems to be a bit of magic at play — the magic of technology, of mystery, and, of course, good ol' employment. Does this mean there's a bit of ignorance afoot, too? Or, is she just taking it all in?
Are you less skeptical of the coming pages? Will Mae be able to sustain the curious new-girl glow as readily as she sustains her 98% aggregate? What will come of SeeChange? Which guy are you rooting for, so far?
And, join us next Friday, 2/14, for part two of our discussion, when we'll cover up to page 250 (or so). Happy reading!
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