840586129_62987f0a27_oIf God was interested in being clean, I wonder if he might have stalled the incarnation a millennium or two until the days of close-toed shoes or indoor plumbing. He would then have had the fortune of choosing from fifty different kinds of shampoo at Kroger, or the experience of a soothing pedicure to rinse out the Palestinian dirt from under his thick yellow toenails.

Cultural progression, it seems to me, moves increasingly anti-dirt. Dave Eggers’ newest book, The Circle, focuses on a not-so distant future in which the latest form of social media, TruYou, has usurped all other internet big businesses, merging all online accounts into one so that internet users link their bank accounts to their blogs to their online shopping to their profile pages (etc.), effectively creating an internet where users engage the web publically as their “true” selves; no multiple accounts, no changing passwords, no fraud. Critics of the book—obviously those who have never been snapped at by high school English teachers to “Suspend your disbelief!”—take issue with the “reality” of the book. It’s unrealistic, they say, that one corporation could attain an internet monopoly. While it does seem a stretch even to me, still, The Circle manages to highlight some subtle truths about human desire. Eggers writes, “most internet users…simply wanted simplicity, efficiency, a clean and streamlined experience.” True enough, we push for the most direct route; we want the clean-cut, anti-dirt experience. Even adolescents are expected to have a streamlined plan for their lives: “What college will you go to? What will you study? What job will you get? Cut to the chase. Forget all the time in between, forget the quiet early mornings, the midnight frisbee, the U-turns, the reckless weekends—just tell me your plan. Be efficient. Be sharp. Be clean.”

The internet, while inarguably providing innumerable worthy services, perpetuates this type of hyper-efficient, streamlined cleanliness, approaching us from beyond a glassy computer screen and sweeping up only the most direct and clean-cut reflections of the human experience; the meandering messes of pain, trial, and wonder are so often left in the wake. It’s tough, as a result, to resist allowing ourselves to be swept up into this networking funnel for the clean-cut. As Mae, the protagonist of The Circle, discovers, relying on this clean, non-physical entity of the internet lures us to distance ourselves from the realities, both sweet and painful, of the physical world. Were we not molded out of dirt? Were we not given a garden to tend? Were we not given noses to smell the lingering sunscreen in the binding of last summer’s beach books or ears to hear grains of sand slipping between the pages? See the stars in the sky, feel the disciple’s transforming soul. And the Lord said, There will be no simplifying my work.

originalThe Circle succeeds in illustrating a dystopian world reliant on efficiency and cleanliness. It’s ironic, and perhaps deliberately so, that The Circle itself reads strangely straightforward and streamlined, very unlike Eggers’ previous works, such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or What is the What, in which messiness heightens beauty. I myself wished for a return to the nuanced means through which Eggers creates beauty from chaos. Luckily for mess-loving readers like myself, in lieu of Eggers’ usual breathtaking chutzpah, God writes plenty into his own critically-acclaimed bestseller.