Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dave Eggers, _The Circle_

THIS ONE FELT to me a bit more like a satire, of the Peacockian variety, than a novel. It does not have the nubbly detail, the thick description that a novel has (despite its length), and the characters (as in Peacock) all seemed designed to illustrate one or another point.

Like A Hologram for the King, the book is a fictional study in How We Work Now, set in an enormous, world-unto-itself IT company called The Circle, which is quite a bit like Google. The protagonist goes from new employee to insider over the course of just under 500 pages.

As in Hologram, Kafka seems to be the book's presiding genius; The Circle reminds me of The Trial the way Hologram reminded me of The Castle.

In The Trial, K. begins by thinking of the legal apparatus that has singled him out as a temporary annoyance, something that has little to do with the real course of his life. Once he commits himself to understanding how it works, though, its assumptions become his assumptions, its values become his values, and by book's end the system has swallowed him whole, claimed his life as its own.

Similarly, Mae (rhymes with K.!) joins The Circle mainly for its terrific health plan (it will cover not only her, but her aging and ailing parents).  She works hard, but does not feel the need to make her work her life, or to share everything about herself with The Circle...until she does. She begins to socialize there, to live there, to become a kind of rising star there. Finally, she too is swallowed whole.

I enjoyed Hologram more, I think; it seemed more genuinely novelistic, I would have to say.  Many of the episodes in The Circle seem creakily allegorical--e.g., Mae's ex-boyfriend's death, or the shark feeding scene (which according to Aaron Thier in the April 7 Nation, is implausible anyway). At its best, though, The Circle has the momentum, piercing humor, and conviction that skillful satirical fiction often does--Waugh's  Decline and Fall or Scoop, say.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Michael Chabon, _Telegraph Avenue_

GOOD GRIEF, IT'S almost April, and I have not posted since mid-January. And 2013 was such a banner year, too. Well, I was on sabbatical for part of it. Still.

I finished this months ago--January, in fact--and to tell you the truth, it has faded in my memory a bit. What I remember thinking at that time:

1) Mighty audacious of Chabon to write a novel with several important African-American characters. Even a quick-witted, highly perceptive novelist like Chabon runs a large risk of getting out of his depth and dropping a brick in such territory. Not that I would have noticed anything myself, mind. But plenty of people would.

2) Once again, the vivacity and dazzle of Chabon's style is very winning.

3) But the love-over-gold theme--being a midwife versus being an M.D., running a cool used vinyl store as opposed to being part of a mega-retail operation--how interesting is that? Some, but not lots.

4) I hope he keeps doing stuff like Chapter 3, "A Bird of Wide Experience." Best thing in the whole book, by my lights, though every page had some to relish, a simile, a turn of phrase.