Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
It was a testament to Annie’s inner will, some mysterious and core sense of destiny. Outwardly, Annie showed no signs of garish ambition, but Mae was sure that there was something within Annie that insisted upon this, that she would have been here, in this position, no matter where she’d come from. If she’d grown up in the Siberian tundra, born blind to shep-herds, she still would have arrived here, now.
“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of some ladder you don’t, right?
“You are really strange,” Mae said again, and meant it. She was twenty-four, and he was unlike anyone she’d ever known. That was, she thought drunkenly, evidence of God, was it not? That she could encounter thousands of people in her life thus far, so many of them similar, so many of them forgettable, but then there is this person, new and bizarre and speaking bizarrely. Every day some scientist discovered a new species of frog or waterlily, and that, too, seemed to confirm some divine shoman, some celestial inventor putting new toys before us, hudden but hidden poorly, just where we might happen upon them. And this Francis person, he was something entirely different, some new frog.
But it felt good to cry, to let her shoulders shake, to feel the hot tears on her face, to taste their baby salt, to wipe snot all over the underside of her shirt. And when she was done, she pushed the kayak out again and she found herself paddling at a brisk pace. Once in the middle of the bay, she stopped. Her tears were dry now, her breathing steady. She was calm and felt strong . . .
His handshake was sturdy but perfunctory. He’d been taught how to shake hands, Mae guessed, but had never seen the point.
“It’s what I love about you. You’re like part human, part rainbow.”
“All right. Mae, we have to change how we interact. Every time I see or hear from you, it’s through this filter. You send me links, you quote someone talking about me, you say you saw a picture of me on someone’s wall…. It’s always this third-par-ty assault. Even when I’m talking to you face-to-face you’re telling me what some stranger thinks of me. It becomes like we’re never alone. Every time I see you, there’s a hundred other people in the room. You’re always looking at me through a hundred other people’s eyes.”
“What? I’m the opposite of callous, Mercer. I’m trying to help you because I believe in what you do.”
“No you don’t. Mae, you’re just unable to allow anything to live inside a room. My work exists in one room. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. And that’s how I intend it.”
“No, Mae, it’s different. That would be easier to understand. Here, though, there are no oppressors. No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen, searching for strangers in Dubai.”
She thought of the foxes that might be underneath her, the crabs that might be hiding under the stones on the shore, the people in the cars that might be passing overhead, the men and women in the tugs and tankers, arriving to port or leaving, sighing, everyone having seen everything. She guessed at it all, what might live, moving purposefully or drifting aimlessly, under the deep water around her, but she didn’t think too much about any of it. It was enough to be aware of the million permutations possible around her, and take comfort in knowing she would not, and really could not, know much at all.
This was a new skill she’d acquired, the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene and even cheerful, while, in her skull, all was chaos.
We’re on the verge of actual change, they said. Change at the speed that our hearts demand.
We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately cali brated between the known and the un-known? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? You people are creating a world of ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. There will be no time to reflect, to sleep, to cool.
“Grief doesn’t arrive on schedule, as much as we’d like it to.”
At the end she found one line, written in red ink: “We must all have the right to disappear.”
“And then what?”
“Then you and I go somewhere. I have so many ideas. We’ll vanish. We can hike through Tibet. We can bike through the Mongolian steppe. We can sail around the world in a boat we built ourselves.”