Friday, February 24, 2017

The Circle by Dave Eggers

I'm not sure what to say about a book that gave me anxiety attacks throughout the reading. Is that kudos to the author, or not? But let's just say more than once did I find this book infiltrating my sleep and me waking up in a dead panic. I'm not sure if my age and lack of social media savvy is to blame for the reaction I had to this novel (I've posed it to my students as an interesting read merely out of curiosity if they will feel the same way, being younger and more tech taught than myself) or if the conflicts and paradigm shifts of living are what nearly drove me over the edge. The disaster is coming - it's right in front of you - OPEN YOUR EYES!!!

The Circle is a novel by Dave Eggers that mimics the front-lines of Facebook with its focus on social media. Not only is it the backdrop of the tech company "The Circle" - it's a means to an end of seeking total transparency for everyone's life. And that is NOT a good idea. There's a reason we don't all need to know everything about everyone - imagine the consequences, the utter destruction of people's lives (hint...hint...). However, within the novel, there are compelling and sometimes logical reasons that transparency would be a good idea - crime watch comes to mind. 

Mae Holland is a newbie at The Circle. She starts out her job in CE (Customer Experience) where she answers questions and queries from those using The Circle as part of their lives and their business. The Circle encompasses all - it's not just for smiles and frowns and zings, but for everything from monitoring the populaces health to their eating habits to their business success. Upon gaining employment, via her best friend Annie who is "important" at The Circle already, Mae is plunged into a world of transparency in her life, and dark secrets she tries to hide. Being sucked into this lifestyle, Mae struggles with her desire to be liked in the online world of friends and loses sight of humanity. 

The writing of Dave Eggers is excellent - he portrays life in The Circle as real life. However, in literary works such as Our Town, the stage manager suggests that one of Wilder’s purposes for writing Our Town was to document “the real life of the people” for future generations. The Circle claims to do this not only through "work" but through social interactions while trying to work. When Mae first begins her employment and finds herself overwhelmed with the expectations stating "...I haven't had time to do extracurricular stuff" she is rebuffed by Gina who has come to "talk to Mae" telling her, "That's so interesting you put it that way...we actually see your profile and the activity on it...this is how your coworkers know who you are. Communication is certainly not extracurricular, right?" - and Mae finds herself embarrassed (Eggers 94). People are quite literally not allowed to just "be" at The Circle. Doing your job well isn't enough, it is total submersion into an online life. There is a clear juxtaposition between a technological life and simplicity throughout the novel and part of Mae's journey in the text is determining which side she'll land on. 

The novel reads as a Juvenalian satire with harsh and abrupt criticism of the pervasiveness of social media in our lives. The programs developed by The Circle for "total transparency" (Mae actually ends up wearing a camera 24/7 for the world to see) such a TruYou, SeeChange, ChildTrack, StudentTrack (this one was laughable), etc...while in premise seem like a good idea, but in clear realistic measures, they are a Molotov cocktail for absolute chaos. The Circle believes they are pulling people out of a "dark age" but as noted by the Dragon in John Gardner's Grendel, "It's damned hard, you understand, confining myself to concepts familiar to a creature of the Dark Ages. Not that one age is darker than another. Technical jargon from another dark age" (67). This is a dark age to anyone in the future, and so on and so forth...we all live in the dark ages. 

Overall, this novel was a challenging read, but I think it poses valid philosophical questions. If it weren't for the random sex (why must there be random sex that is irrelevant), I'd teach this novel to students comparing it with works like Our Town for the contrasting ideas of real interaction and real life versus a life in the proverbial "cloud."

Eggers gets ☕☕☕☕from me, and I'm sure the movie adaptation starring Emma Watson will be just as anxiety ridden as the book. 

Coming up next?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Truly, Madly, Guilt by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty has well-established herself as a writer of women's fiction, mostly mystery and suspense; but not the "sleuth" type of mystery, the everyday housewife conundrums that plague the suburban landscape. She tells the secrets of women whose children attend prep schools and live quiet lives of desperation.  Her novel Big Little Lies is currently debuting as an HBO mini-series and I'll be watching along with the rest of my book club- we love to read her work.

Truly, Madly, Guilty was our February book club selection. The premise of the novel begins with a neighborhood bar-b-que. Of course, Moriarty is an Australian author, so I somewhat love the BBQ plot line - it's so quintessentially Australian. (Side note: the word barbie is Australian slang for BBQ and attributed to their language and culture).

The novel volleys between different dates and times following the strained friendship of Erika and Clementine and the awful event that happened at the impromptu neighborhood bbq. Throw in an Italian style super friendly guy and his stripper wife, a few eccentric mothers, some tired fathers/husbands, and children - and there's the cast of characters.

Now - I don't write them like this to dismiss them, but for me the suspense of finding out what happened at the bbq interspersed with details from the character's lives became a background story. The real story for me dealt with the awkward friendship of Erika and Clementine; a friendship forced upon them by Clementine's mother and her over-the-top need to "kind" for all the world to see (and this is why it's "over-the-top" - because it seemed all for show) and Erika's distraught childhood of being raised by a hoarder.

The psychology of the novel was good - there was clear research in to how being raised by someone with a mental disorder impacted the life of her child; however, their adult lives made me uncomfortable. And I find this is what I actually found intriguing - this is what kept me reading. I think it was the issue of friends that aren't really friends that I found so interesting - much like romantic relationships, friendships often lull into an idea of being friends because we've been friends for so long. I cherish my long term friendships, and love them dearly; yet, have had to let some go over the course of my life out of sheer self-preservation and maturity. Clementine and Erika fall into the latter category and I kept waiting for the moment in the book where they would simply let go so they could be happy. You'll have to read to find out if that was a satisfying ending 😉

Overall, this was probably the weakest of Moriarty's novels for me - sadly (another adverb to add to the title). I really didn't care what happened at the bbq - it labored on for too long and when the event does happen, while tragic and upsetting, quite anticlimactic. I also despised the stripper and her cavalier attitude toward what she did, how she did it, and those she hurt in so many ways. If Moriarty was attempting to display and relate the reality of a stripper's mindset for all the world to see - she did. The woman was an absolute twit and drew no sympathy from me.

Unfortunately she only gets  ☕☕ for this one. I'm glad I've read other books by her though, because had this been the first, it would have been the only.

Maybe next time...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Not Working by Lisa Owens

I had hoped my foray back into the world of reviewing novels would cover a novel I loved, but we simply don't always get what we want out of life...much like our main character in Not Working, a novel by Lisa Owens.

I received this novel from a friend who did note that it was not for her, but she thought I'd like to give it a go. The premise is sound - Claire doesn't like her job so she quits. I mean - wouldn't we all enjoy a moment of that freedom?

And then it goes a bit "south" for me. She quits with no prospects. Because she wants to find herself. Do something meaningful. Although she doesn't know what that means. And then there's the weird fallout with her mother (that I never quite understood). And her horrible treatment of Luke, her very patient boyfriend. And her whiny, incessant, mind-boggling behavior.

Maybe that says something about the writing - that Ms. Owens has the ability to make me truly despise a character. There's nothing in literature that says a novel or character must be "likable" to be interesting. Much like Daisy Buchanan - we probably aren't supposed to like Claire. So if that was Ms. Owens's goal - she receives a resounding FIVE cups of coffee from me.

☕☕☕☕☕ (!!)

But that wasn't enough. A character doesn't necessarily need to be loved, but there should be something redeeming about her (Daisy was charming, albeit unrelatable to us "peons"). She's a terrible daughter, friend, employee, lover - it seems all she really does well is complain. That is not a quality worth appreciating. Or is it? She does it with such gusto and complete disregard for anyone around her (insert poor Polly and Will towards the end of the novel...granted, Will's a touch of a moron, but still...) that it does command some respect "that makes calamity of so long life."

There are funny moments in Claire's onslaught of life told in short sketches of her days - like her obsession with the weird plant growing out of the side of their building, or her feeble attempts to be a good granddaughter, selfish as they might be - but they aren't enough for me to see the true humor in Claire's unemployment or her search for a destiny that matters to others; she's so truly disillusioned with her own idea to make a difference that she can't see her own character doesn't possess this quality. Her quick wit and cunning comebacks are sporting, but lose their slice in a woman that is so childish and entitled. It had potential, but fails (maybe like Claire?).

Overall, I can't recommend this book for it's plot, but the writing is actually quite good - a conundrum, I know. I think Lisa Owens has a cheeky quality that could lend itself to better humor in a situation that doesn't make the reader want to reach through the flesh and ink and throttle the protagonist. It had too much of a "millennial" effect for me: a society of self-absorbed, selfie-taking, handout-reaching, work-for-nothing, I'm-fabulous, love-me-for-me generation (I do offend here, I know - and I want to say I'm sorry, but the truth is I'm not. Stop it. Get a job. Pay your dues. Suck it up.).

This novel does demonstrate what happens to the human mind when it's not engaged in any sort of real task or reality. It apparently turns to mush. Claire's personality, while annoying, is something we've all seen either in ourselves at some time or a friend - we all know someone like Claire; people incapable of making decisions, bucking up, or powering through, and so they just suck the life out of everyone around them in their tiny world of uncertainty. They constantly ask the overwhelming question:

...that follow[s] like a tedious argument 
Of insidious intent 
To lead you to an overwhelming question ... 
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?"

and never answer it. For this - I give her kudos. I get it. 

I give her three coffee cups ☕☕☕ (and two glasses of wine 🍷🍷 - you'll need both).

Lisa Owens was born in 1985, and is a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. She worked in publishing for six years, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. NOT WORKING is her first novel. She lives in London.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reading and Reviewing Again...

It's been a year (or slightly more) since I've reviewed books. I'm going to try to bring this back to life again. I hope I do the literary world justice.

Monday, January 25, 2016

On hiatus...(again!)

I'm no longer writing book reviews for this blog. Just don't have the time (and it pains me to write that!)

However, if you are interested simply in what I'm reading and rating, please find me over at Goodreads where I do keep track of what's on the shelf. You will find me under my full name: Cresta McGowan.

Happy reading!