Quick Review: DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch (Crown/Macmillan)

CrouchB-DarkMatterUSA gripping multiverse thriller

“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. Hiswife 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.

There was so much buzz surrounding this book in the lead-up to its publication. So much, in fact, that I started to get nervous. Having now finished the novel, though, it’s very easy to see why so many people have been recommending it: it’s superb. Crouch, author of the Wayward Pines novels, has penned a fantastic sci-fi mystery.

Dark Matter sucked me in very quickly. Crouch wastes no time in getting the story moving, and his prose is very well composed and flows brilliantly. At no point did I feel like the story dragged or got bogged down in detail — even when things need explaining, Crouch gives the reader just enough to keep us hooked, but not too much to either over-complicate matters, nor to present hurdles for himself later on.

crouchb-darkmatterukJason is an interesting protagonist, and I welcomed his flaws — to begin with, he is clearly dissatisfied with his life in some ways, and he suffers at least a small amount of ennui centred on thoughts of the roads not taken. His family life is not as fulfilling as he maybe thought it should be; his relationship with his wife stuck in a comfortable pattern, no longer passionate or exciting; his career not as impressive as many thought it would be. He feels like he should — or, at least, could — have achieved so much more than he has.

After waking up in a new reality, Jason not only has to adjust to his new situation, but figure out how it has come about. He must also decide if it’s a reality that he wants. His confused state makes those around him nervous, and after some rash decisions, he realized that he has awoken in a very different world — one that may not be safe, despite “his” accomplishments there.

And… that’s about as much of the plot I feel comfortable mentioning. I went in with no knowledge of the story save for what was printed on the inside cover-flap. As a result, many of the decisions Crouch makes over the course of the novel were both surprising and interesting. So many of them, I think, were brilliant — and frequently things that other authors might forget or dismiss. He seemed always conscious of the science he was playing around with, and the theoretical implications thereof. Towards the end, it’s a bit mind-bending, and I couldn’t begin to figure out how I’d feel in a similar situation (which was the point), and the impossible decisions with which Jason is confronted. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the theoretical physics, but as I said earlier, the author gives us enough to get what’s going on and enjoy the ride.

It was interesting to see Jason grapple with the different realities he experiences, and the different versions of friends and family. As the story progresses, we realized the incredible challenge that he faces, and with the help of an unexpected ally, we see him figure out what is most important to him. There’s a solid character arc, as Jason is forced to take stock of his life and decisions, as well as to own them.

The novel is very well paced, and quick without being rushed — although, as many people have found, Dark Matter is very difficult to put down, so the reader may be in a rush to see the plot unfold. I read this over the course of two days, broken up only by an afternoon in the car and needing to sleep at least a couple of hours. It’s gripping, and I was very pleased to find that the hype is entirely justified.

Dark Matter is one of the best novels I’ve read this year — it’s brilliantly plotted, clever, populated by interesting and sympathetic characters, and is a well balanced mix of action and mystery. It is a novel of second chances, yes, but also about not knowing what you have until it’s gone, and just how much you’re willing to do to get everything back.

Very highly recommended. A 2016 must read.

*

Blake Crouch‘s Dark Matter is out now, published in North America by Crown Publishing, and in the UK by Macmillan.

Thanks again to Becca for the book.

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