Book Review: Dark Matter, Blake Crouch (2016)

July 27th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

The summer blockbuster potential is strong with this one.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Standing happy and slightly drunk in my kitchen, I’m unaware that tonight is the end of all of this. The end of everything I know, everything I love. No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting. No time to flinch or brace.

“It’s terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, creates a new world.”

Jason Dessen’s life is a good one, if disappointingly ordinary. He and his wife Daniela have one child, a fourteen-year-old boy named Charlie; he spent his first year in and out of hospitals, but is thankfully healthy now. An artist, Charlie takes after his mom – who was once an up-and-comer in the art world, but is now a part-time art tutor and full-time mom. Jason also chose to put his career on hold when Charlie was born; an atomic physicist, he teaches undergraduate physics at Lakemont College. The science isn’t terribly sexy, but it pays the bills.

Jason is happy…and yet, as he watches college friends receive awards and accolades, he often wonders what might have been if he hadn’t prioritized his family over his career. We’ve all been there: obsessing over old regrets, fantasizing about roads not traveled. Unlike the rest of us, though, Jason’s about to find out what could have been.

One nondescript October night, Jason is abducted on his way home from the neighborhood tavern – kidnapped, assaulted, stripped naked, and drugged – by a stranger wearing a geisha mask, no less. When he wakes up, he’s another person – and also not. He’s still Jason Dessen, but instead of teaching at a small college, he’s got a secretive job at a high-tech research facility. Daniela still exists, but only as an old friend; having never had Charlie, she went on to become a successful artist.

So begins a pretty epic journey. Jason has to solve the puzzle that is now his life – before his new colleagues discover that he’s not the man they think he is – and find his way back to Daniela and Charlie.

I’m kind of hesitant to say much more because to do so would reveal some major spoilers. That said, between the title and the synopsis, it’s pretty easy to guess at the crux of the plot. After establishing the Dessens’ background in Act I, Act II unfolds about how I expected (even if Jason doesn’t quite figure it out until the 40% mark). Even so, this didn’t diminish my enjoyment at all; Crouch packs the second act with some wonderful and truly blood-curdling details. As for Act III, he drops a mind-boggling bomb that I never saw coming – though you might, if you stop and take a breather to think things through. As it was, I got so caught up in the action, I didn’t even bother mulling over all the particulars. It’s a wild ride; best to just hang on and let the current carry you where it will.

With Dark Matter, Crouch grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. There’s some geeky science stuff in there that I loved but didn’t completely understand (what’s Schrödinger’s cat got to do with multiple universes?), yet Crouch explains it succinctly. Ultimately, the science amplifies the action, rather than slowing things down.

And while this is a fun rollercoaster ride with loads of big screen movie potential, Crouch also tackles more cerebral issues, like the nature of self-identity; to what extent our environments shape our personalities, and vice versa; and whether individuality is just an illusion, or a lie we tell ourselves. It’s both compelling and damn entertaining to watch Jason wrestle with these issues as tries to reconcile this odd new world with the one he knows – or thinks he knows. Is he going crazy, or is it the world that’s mad? What if both – or neither – are true?

Dark Matter is a must read, whether you’re devouring it poolside; by a nice, cozy fire; or in between your quantum mechanics and calculus homework.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Daniela Vargas is Latina (Spanish). In some worlds, she and Jason have a son named Charlie. He was born in poor health and spent the first year of his life in and out of hospitals (though he’s okay now). Daniela suffered from postpartum depression after his birth.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

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