Blake Crouch is the author of multiple, best-selling, mind-bending thrillers; his atmospheric novels in the Wayward Pines trilogy were adapted into a television show for Fox. I enjoyed his previous book Dark Matter (2016) but have not read any of his other work.
The buzz for Recursion (2019) is even higher than for Dark Matter so I was greatly looking forward to reading it. Not much is given away in the blurb (“A breath-taking exploration of memory and what it means to be human.”) but it was clear to me even before I started that the story must have something to do with time travel.
Crouch has a very direct, visual and propulsive writing style. At times this book reads like a screenplay instead of a novel. The story develops very quickly and moves ahead even faster. The main characters are Barry Sutton, a NYPD detective, Helena Smith, a neuroscientist, and Marcus Slade, a billionaire investor. Slade invests in Smith’s nascent technological invention, a way to map, store and transfer memories.
The book switches into high gear when Slade hijacks the development of Smith's technology, turning it into a world-altering device. This is where Crouch fundamentally loses me. The thing Smith has invented allows a person not to recover their memories, instead it allows them to go back in time to the moment when that memory was created. (In order to do so they have to use Smith's memory-mapping technology and then die immersed in her device, which produces huge amounts of a brain chemical which spurs the person in the tank to alter reality itself to conform with their saved memory.) Crouch never uses the term “time travel” but that is really what Recursion is about at its core. It is uni-directional time travel, only back in time. Eventually, when the time traveler lives long enough to get back to the time when the timeline was split EVERY PERSON IN THE WORLD suddenly becomes aware of the events in the removed timeline (the timeline the time traveler was from) as “false memories.” They also have sudden nosebleeds and a sudden splitting headache. This is where Crouch completely lost me and I ceased to enjoy the book. It’s so obvious at this point that the impact on world events would be so extremely significant that what happens from that point in the story on just devolves into nonsense.
What kept me going was my investment in the characters of Helena and Barry. I was also somewhat curious how Crouch would write himself out of the pretzel plot he had created. For awhile it seemed like he actually would let it spiral out of control but in the end he resolved it satisfactorily.
In fact I wouldn’t be surprised that when Crouch was writing the book he “saw” the final scene in his mind’s eye first and the entire book was written to get there. It’s a great scene in the context of what went before but it was not enough payoff for me.
Author: Blake Crouch.
Paperback: 336 pages.
Date Published: June 11, 2019.
Date Read: November 26, 2019.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★½☆☆ (3.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).