An O is a Full Circle

Although I wanted to like it, The Circle disappointed me. This novel turns out to be a pastiche, a parody without the bite. The plot of the book is obvious from the onset, or at least within the first twenty pages or so. That may not be a bad thing, but the execution is little to write home about. Hypocritical, unsympathetic, two-dimensional everyman Mae represents someone who, after some initial prompting, completely buys into FaceGoogle — pardon, the Circle’s promise of connection. (The Circle acquired Google, Facebook, and a number of made-up companies, so they’re quite explicitly FaceGoogle++.) Perhaps the attack on the artificial type of connectedness is also the part of this book with the most teeth left: about how the illusion of living through others, through images and videos is just that (no matter how great it might be for those who are home-ridden). But you’d do better to read The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster from 1909 instead.

In spite of all that, the book has some amusing scenes. Near the end, the character with the role of the obnoxious, preachy voice of reason is being pursued by drones. As all the little flying nuisances are shouting about how they just want to be friends, the book ventured into proper satire. Had the book been more like that, showing the hilariously wrong consequences of the utopian proposals, I probably would’ve liked it a lot better. However, in the end there was too much fluff and too little of the good stuff.

Dave Eggers (2013), The Circle.

★★★

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Down With Democracy

The first few pages were interesting. That’s what the first few pages were. The rest of part one was a veritable bore, in spite of the chopped up narrative, never living up to what seemed to be its promise. Most memorable was the misspelling of rijsttafel as rijstaffel. Was it on purpose? Does it mean anything? Does a rice table undermine the grand narrative in ways the rest of the book tries but fails? Part two and three decided to change into something akin to a normal narrative, but that didn’t improve the book any. Still, at least my enjoyment of the book oscillated by this point, perhaps even with a vaguely upward trend.

In the end, Democracy is a quick, boring read with a mildly interesting ironic narrative gimmick. The constant false starts and repetitions are presumably meant to undermine the grand narratives of modernity, those of the American democracy in particular. Instead we get a dull soap opera with lifeless characters dressed up in a thin veneer of literary play.

Joan Didion (1984), Democracy.

★★½

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Take Me Home

I first came across Toni Morrison a few years ago when I read Beloved, a book that positively blew me away. Although I haven’t read anything else by her since, picking up Home when I noticed it on sale was a no-brainer. I didn’t realize my copy of the book came out of the printer’s cut crooked, but I think it adds to the experience.

This book definitely succeeded in shocking me, someone who considers themselves a fairly well-informed European Americanophile. While I’ve read non-fiction literature like the maddeningly complacent Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washinton as well as Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, it still failed to register with me just how persistent such attitudes were across the entire country. Segregation was not just a southern thing. This isn’t something I grasped from, say, Pynchon’s V., which I’d argue draws attention away from the racial and social problems in order to focus on some kind of crisis of modernity. I bring this up because the PTSD-suffering protagonist sees “black flames shooting out of the V” of the logo of a Chevron station. Morrison clearly isn’t Pynchon, but when your nose is singing from being pushed into flamey V-related imagery you can’t help but make a connection.

The interaction between the global narrator and the Frank narrator is interesting, but I shouldn’t spoil it. If you’ve read Beloved you kind of know the shtick, but it’s different enough not to feel like repetition. In brief, Home is a story of broken people jerkily healing themselves, overcoming not only their shattered selves but also the malfunctioning society that made them. Recommended.

Toni Morrison (2012), Home.

★★★★

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