Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Circle is a fantastic and lengthy novel from the successful and compelling writer David Eggers, who published the equally provocative Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in 2000. The protagonist of The Circle (published in 2013) is Mae Holland, an alumna of prestigious liberal arts school, who counts herself fortunate to land a job at The Circle, a massive technology company which undertakes aggressive and controversial internet monitoring operations, but which provides impressive amenities (such as food, housing, social opportunities, and healthcare) for its employees and their families.
Mae Holland begins working for The Circle in customer service, where she is propelled forward by her college friendship with Annie, one of the company's powerful executives. Mae is a dutiful employee, and is grateful to The Circle for putting her family on her health insurance. In addition to exceeding the company's performance metrics, she even allows herself to be monitored publicly by the company's camera system (described colloquially as "going transparent").
The mysterious Kalden is someone Mae meets while working at The Circle, and with whom she develops a hidden sexual relationship. Kalden gives Mae oblique hints at his conviction that The Circle must be stopped, but does not divulge his position there. The level of Kalden's involvement at the company is revealed at the novel's end.
In addition to Mae and Kalden, Mercer (Mae's ex-boyfriend) is a prominent character, and can rightly be called the novel's antagonist. He is a provincial, whiny Luddite from Mae's hometown, who owns a moderately successful business making lamps. Mae's parents really like Mercer, but he himself is vocally disapproving of Mae's employment at The Circle. Mae begrudges this disapproval, and disregards it as a sort of jealousy. Mae eventually uses the company's technology to find Mercer, who has taken to hide in the woods in protest of The Circle's "Big Brother" regime. The chase compels Mercer to drive off a bridge, and his character stands as a casualty to The Circle's imminent domination of society.