Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin is another one of those books I could not stop discussing with my family. Every time I stopped reading the book, I had to make a comment to whichever family member was nearest to me, if only to help dispel that creepy-crawly feeling that traveled over my body while reading. Every scene made me flashback to that time I owned a Furby and made me shudder with regret about ever bringing it into my home.
Not that Ms. Schweblin’s kentukis are Furbies, but it does not take any stretch of the imagination to imagine that they could be. The difference should be that Furbies were toys, programmed to act and move based on certain interactions by the owners, but Ms. Schweblin has me rethinking that. What if an unknown someone was operating that damn thing remotely and we never knew it? At least in Ms. Schweblin’s world, the people who brought kentukis into their homes knew that there was someone behind the camera eyes controlling the thing.
Then again, would Furbies have been as popular if we knew someone was remotely operating them? Ms. Schweblin seems to think so. Her idea of Keepers versus Dwellers and the popularity of her imaginary toy is downright disturbing. It quickly becomes a very pointed commentary on the social-media obsessed society we inhabit today. After all, we allow strangers into our lives with every selfie we take and post online. Is it such a stretch of the imagination to imagine how popular a toy that allows a perfect stranger from somewhere in the world to control a toy that sees and hears everything you do in the privacy of your own home?
The toy’s popularity also brings up more fodder for debate about the idea of relationships. For almost all of the Keepers, those who keep the actual toy in their homes, the kentuki becomes a pet, a friend with whom to share your life. But can they ever truly know the person behind the camera? Can you truly interpret the meaning of the growls and purrs this an inanimate object projects based on directions from the remote dweller? Is it a pet? Is it a toy? No one seems to know, and the differences in how each Keeper we meet interacts with his or her kentuki makes for one-half of a fascinating story.
We also see those who make up the Dwellers, those people who buy a connection and control a kentuki somewhere around the world. Sadly, the idea of dwelling – of remotely spying on someone else and seeing into a life completely unlike your own – is not foreign. After all, it is one of the reasons why social media is so popular. Voyeurism is innate to human nature, and dwelling is nothing but voyeurism in its purest form. Here again, though, we immediately hit snags. Some dwellers find the world they view through the camera so compelling as to forget about their real life. Others see horrible scenarios about which they can do nothing. Or so they think. Again, can we really truly understand what we see without a greater context? Does dwelling provide a bit of freedom with its glimpses into another life or does it merely trap us into false understandings?
Every connection in Little Eyes does nothing but prompt more questions about the definition of relationships and of allowing a stranger more visibility into your life. The story itself reads like separate stories collected under one title, allowing readers the opportunity to get an understanding of the infinite scenarios that might happen with these toys. The nontraditional format of the novel drives home the strange connection between Keeper and Dweller while also creating an excellent story in and of itself.
I would love to see Little Eyes become a popular book club selection. The discussion topics are endless, as no reader is going to have the same thoughts about kentukis and the experiences we see occur throughout the book. It would be even better if members of the book club also had Furbies back in the day because I think having had one impacts your reaction to the story. After all, I think the whole thing creepy AF because I remember that damn toy talking in the middle of the night and moving at random, scaring the shit out of Jim and me. Someone who did not have that glorious experience might feel differently.