Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

When I read Black Crouch’s previous novel, Dark Matter, I used the word mind-f*ckery in my review. And apparently, this author excels at mind-f*ckery, because that’s exactly how I’d describe this book too.

And I mean that as very high praise!

Recursion is crazy heaps of mind-melting, time-distorting, reality-altering fun, and I loved it start to finish.

Barry is our non-scientist entry into the world of playing with reality by activating memories. Helena is the scientist who makes it all possible. Her goal is to help her mother before she completely loses herself to Alzheimer’s, but an innovative mega-millionaire realizes that Helena’s invention can be so much more. When he funds her research, the best scientific minds are assembled to create the device at the heart of Helena’s studies, a chair that enables people to save the synaptic imprints of vivid memories so that they can be re-experienced later, perhaps when those memories have been consumed by disease and deterioration.

I won’t go deeper into plot than what I’ve already said. Through Barry and Helena’s separate experiences, we learn about the research, the ulterior motives of Helena’s benefactor, and the mind-boggling way in which her device can be put to use. The end results are far from what Helena intended or even dreamed… and from the reader’s perspective, it’s just so weird and cool. I came close to permanently tying my brain into a pretzel trying to follow some of the logic and cause-and-effect factors and timey-wimey shenanigans that get wilder and wilder as the book progresses. How crazy is it all? There are apocalypses. Yes, plural. Apocalypses.

At the same time that all this reality bending is going on, there are deep and beautiful relationships at stake, painful emotions and harsh truths, and some really intriguing thoughts about the role of memory and the meaning of experiences.

He is always looking back, living more in memories than the present, often altering them to make them prettier. To make them perfect. Nostalgia is as much an analgesic for him as alcohol.

The plot is complex and made me work hard to follow it (and I’m not sure I always understood exactly why things happened how and when they did), but I loved every moment and couldn’t put the book down. Recursion reminded me a little of one of my very favorite science fiction books, Replay by Ken Grimwood (which, if you haven’t read it, drop everything and go find a copy!).

As I think is obvious by now, I completely fell for Recursion and have been recommending it like a madwoman ever since I finished it. And every time I got confused by a freakish time twist? I just remembered a comment of Helena’s:

You have to stop thinking linearly.

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The details:

Title: Recursion
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: June 11, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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The Monday Check-In ~ 6/10/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner: Powerful historical fiction. My review is here.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn: A truly beautiful and powerful memoir. My review is here.

Recursion by Blake Crouch: So much mind-f*ckery. Just finished reading this Sunday night; review to follow. (Loved it.)

Fresh Catch:

No new books — although I did pick up a paperback edition of The Salt Path to complement listening to the audiobook!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Bouncing around between different books right now:

A graphic novel, an ARC of a recent release, and a re-read of a book whose sequel comes out later this month — between these three, I should be able to keep myself busy for the next several days!

Now playing via audiobook:

Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery: Back to Anne! I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time earlier this year, and have been wanting to continue with the series. I’m only a little way into the book, but it’s charming so far.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark MatterThis is one twisty, suspenseful, mind-f*ck of a book… and I mean that in the best way possible!

Synopsis via Goodreads:

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable–something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Okay, wow. I could not put this book down. I mean, edge of seat, biting the nails, all in.

So… enough gushing. Let’s talk about why this is such a great read.

In Dark Matter, the author (a) creates a scenario that feels actually possible, even though it’s pure science fiction; (b) trusts that his readers are intelligent enough to follow the plot down the physics rabbit holes; and (c) creates characters who we can truly care about.

Poor Jason. Of all the ways a life can go wrong, I’m sure he never expected this one! One day he’s teaching college physics, married to a lovely woman, father of a pretty awesome teen boy. Next thing he knows, he’s kidnapped, drugged, and waking up in a strange lab to applause and cheers, surrounded by people who seem to be his super-impressed colleagues.

It all comes down to quantum physics. Of course. Years earlier, Jason and Daniela each compromised on their dreams — Jason to make the kind of physics breakthrough that changes the world, Daniela to achieve renown as an artist — in order to focus on family and marriage. But what if there’s a world where Jason made different choices? In the multiverse concept (as explained by me, a non-physicist, so be kind and forgive anything I get wrong), each decision a person makes spins off an entirely new universe from that decision point (okay, yeah, that’s totally simplistic, but best I can do in a quick digest)… and  Jason, being a world-class physicist, can appreciate the dilemma of worlds colliding and splitting more than most.

I really don’t want to say too much about the plot of Dark Matter. It’s complicated and fast-moving, will occasionally make your head spin, and moves along its path in all sorts of WTF-ish ways.

I loved the complexity of Jason’s situation and the seeming hopelessness of his quest. The climax of the book includes scenes that are absolutely out there, but also kind of perfect. There are shades of grey and some practically impossible decisions that must be made. And oddly, beyond being a very cool and fascinating science fiction novel, I think it’s fair to say that Dark Matter is also a love story. It’s Jason’s love for Daniela and his son Charlie that propel him through his despair and force him to keep trying when all hope seems lost.

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The details:

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: July 26, 2016
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley (and then bought myself a copy!)

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