Recursion by Blake Crouch
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
Publication date: June 11, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction, Suspense
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Blake Crouch’s new novel, Recursion, has left me stumped. In order to review a book, I need to be able, to some degree, to understand it and in this case I’m not sure I do. It’s about time travel and its impact. Sort of. Maybe. I think…
It’s 2007 and Helena Smith is a neuroscientist whose mother has Alzheimer’s. She has spent years trying to devise a way to capture and map memories that can then be re-implanted, offsetting the horrible effects of the disease. She conducts her research at Stanford until a mysterious billionaire comes to her and agrees to fund all of the costs of making her device a reality. She says yes and moves to a former oil rig set far off in the Pacific Ocean that’s been converted into a luxury compound with the staff and equipment to accelerate her progress exponentially. She creates the technology and finishes the device, only to discover that the billionaire’s funding comes at a price.
It’s 2018 and Barry Sutton, an NYPD cop is called when a woman threatens to jump off a building. When he arrives, the woman tells him she has False Memory Syndrome—a condition about which little is known, but where people suddenly have memories of other lives. Memories astonishing in their vividness. The woman’s grief over the life she lost is so great she jumps. Barry is struck by her story and starts to investigate the woman’s lost life. He uncovers an organization that allows people to go back in time and change aspects of their lives. Haunted by his own past, he is inadvertently drawn into the web of people living new lives. He meets Helena, now on a quest to destroy the machine that was her life’s work. But which life?
This is the gist of the novel, but the looping of time, the shifts from one life to another version of that life, the concept of what reality even means, left me scratching my head. What was not difficult to understand was the impact of each foray into the past. Lives are left unlived, spouses and siblings disappear from each other’s lives, and the dead are brought back to life. Crouch does an amazing job with the implications of these events. As the novel progresses he also builds the tension into a crescendo of hopelessness as man’s manipulation of technology brings out the worst in humanity.
Recursion is a high-intensity novel about a subject that once seemed quaint, thanks to H.G. Wells’s novel, The Time Machine. Crouch ratchets the subject sky high, by making it about the human mind, not just jumping in a machine that takes you to another time. Now it is the person who resets their own history, with the full knowledge that they’re doing so.
Where did this leave me? I may not have been able to follow every thread of Recursion, but I still couldn’t put it down. The story is addictive. It reminded me of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, 11/22/63 by Stephen King and even If, Then by Kate Hope Day. Wondering about the past is a natural phenomenon for most of us and in this iteration of time travel novels Crouch takes wondering to a chilling level by layering in the rapidly emerging capabilities of technology. Don’t worry if you can’t follow every leap in Recursion. Sometimes it’s nice to be mentally challenged and it doesn’t slow the flow of this dark thriller.
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