Friday, March 1, 2019

Book Review: "Recursion" by Blake Crouch

This was some crazy s--t.

"What's more precious than our memories? They define us and form our identities."

Blake Crouch's new book, Recursion, is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Crouch's Dark Matter, which was one of the top five books I read in 2017, blew me away, even though I wasn't 100 percent sure I understood everything I read. But this book? This is a fascinating, albeit confusing, meditation on memory and how crucial what we remember is to our identity. It's a roller coaster ride which cements Crouch's reputation as a master of meshing unbelievable science and emotion.

Barry Sutton is a detective in New York City who is summoned when a woman is threatening to jump from a skyscraper. She tells him that she is suffering from False Memory Syndrome, which somehow leaves you with vivid memories of a life and experiences you never had. Often these memories feel more real than the life you are living, and it is immensely disorienting—and possibly contagious. The woman tells Barry that she is devastated by the fact that her son has been "erased," even though people tell her she never had a son. And then she leaps to her death.

Meanwhile, Helena Smith is a neuroscientist who has been working on research to help map our most precious memories and how to preserve them. If she succeeds, people with dementia and brain injuries might one day be able to remember moments and people that have slipped from their grasp. The pace and scope of her research is significantly accelerated by the involvement and support of an eccentric, wealthy benefactor. But what's behind his interest?

As Barry tries to investigate what's behind False Memory Syndrome—or if it exists at all—he finds himself in the middle of a disturbing mystery. Has someone figured out the ability to manipulate our memories and make us believe things that never existed? If our true memories are wiped out and replaced, does that change who we are? And at what cost?

Barry and Helena's stories alternate as they represent both sides of the coin—the beneficent research looking to make a difference in how we retain our memories, and the shadowy side, using memories for destructive purposes. Recursion started a little slowly for me, but picked up speed as the book moved along, until it careened toward a conclusion.

The ideas behind the book were fascinating and thought-provoking, but the book itself didn't quite work for me as well as I had hoped given how much I loved Dark Matter. Each story on its own was compelling but the constant shifting back and forth, and having to keep track of when things happened, often made me lose focus. But once again, Crouch proves his talent as a storyteller and a brilliant mind.

If you're a fan of science fiction thrillers that make you wonder if what you're reading might actually be possible, pick up Recursion. And don't miss out on Dark Matter or Crouch's Wayward Pines trilogy, because this guy knows how to write.

NetGalley and Crown Publishing provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

This book will be published June 11, 2019.

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