Controversy and Craft: On Dave Eggers, Part 2

by K.M. Zahrt

This is the second installment of a four-part series on Dave Eggers.

Eggers followed the troublesome non-fiction narratives (see Part 1) with a genre-toeing novel, A Hologram for a King (2012), which enjoyed trouble-free success as a finalist for the National Book Award, suffering only the usual amount of Internet criticism that any book by any popular author will find these days. But that respite was fleeting as his 2013 novel, The Circle — about a young woman who is swallowed up by the imposing culture on the campus of a successful technology company — has been accused of plagiarism. (For more on The Circle, see my full review.)

The Boy Kings by Katherine Losse is a memoir with a similar — perhaps even the same — storyline. This article by Katie J.M. Baker does a nice job of summarizing the complaint. Losse’s argument seems to be weak as most of the comparisons relate to general operations of the technology company and its culture that would be described in a similar way by anyone writing on the subject. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Eggers would include details about employee training, meetings, and discussions of passwords as part of his characters’ experiences. These experiences are not even unique to Silicon Valley technology companies. Employees across the country will identify with some of these increasingly familiar scenarios. Moreover, these types of details are not going to be protected as intellectual property, especially in regards to fiction.

Eggers, in response to the criticism, stated: “I’ve just heard about the claims of Kate Losse that my novel, The Circle, was somehow based on a work of nonfiction she wrote. I want to make it clear that I have never read and have never heard of her book before today” (Baker).

It’s unlikely that I will buy and read Losse’s book. I only heard about it as a result of this controversy, and unfortunately for her, I’ve already bought and read The Circle. Like many of those readers, I would assume, I’ve already gotten my technology-driven dystopian-epic fix. While it may be unfair for many reasons that more readers will buy and read Eggers’ version of the story, Losse could’ve, at best, hoped to sell a few more books as a result of the attention. She may have, but she probably would’ve been better off marketing her book as a non-fiction companion, as “the real The Circle,” as opposed to mounting an attack. Now, nearly a year later, it hasn’t seemed to change much for either author or either book.

Revisit Part 1 of this series and join us tomorrow for Part 3. We’ll take a look another recent controversy.

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