© 2019 Blake Crouch
Imagine a sudden headache, a nosebleed, and the instantaneous arrival of a lifetime’s worth of memories that are yours — and yet, not. Imagine remembering being married to someone for decades, having children with them, but also knowing and remembering that you lived another life — a life not married to them, a life where they remain a stranger with their own spouse and a history far removed from the one you remember the two of you sharing together. Imagine, too, you are not alone — there is a rising epidemic of ‘false memory syndrome’, and those affected are often overwhelmed with such confusion and emotional turmoil that the only way out is to throw one’s self off the building, or to wander into the cold ocean weighted down with stones. It’s such a life’s ending that Barry Sutton is faced with: a weary cop, living with memories of a dead child and a sundered marriage. Sutton knows in his gut that there’s more to the story than a mind-virus, or whatever the media is explaining the rash of suicides by — and his pursuit will connect his life to another’s, that of a brilliant scientist named Helen Smith who created an apparatus capable of saving and reactivating memories in the minds of those afflicted with Alzheimers. The combined story of these two people results in a captivating SF novel about memory, consciousness, time, and the inevitability of suffering. It’s easily the most interesting novel I’ve read all year.
I shouldn’t be surprised to be so captivated by Crouch: his “Summer Frost” was far and away my favorite in Amazon’s “Forward” collection, and its theme of sentience and artificial intelligence is not far from the topic here. Crouch drops the reader into the middle of two seemingly disconnected stories — a police mystery and a technical drama — that prove to be joined at the hip. From the start, it’s easy to bond with the two lead characters: Helen, the genius daughter anxious to save her mother’s mind, concerned about her generous benefactor’s motives but determined to create a solution to the disease that’s so harrowed her family; Barry, whose past pain makes him more sensitive and curious about the woes of others, even in a profession where cynicism quickly takes hold. Helen and Barry only grow more interesting as the story matures and we realize how interrelated their two queries are — learning, in fact, that Helen has invented the device before, and that a third party has hijacked her work for his own ends. Through Barry, who unwittingly becomes a subject of the machine, we experience both the promise of the technology — and the horror of it, when he’s exposed to the technology’s unintended consequences. He and Helen’s lives converge as they both attempt to prevent the potential power unleashed by the technology, and things spiral wildly out of hand, with a lot of emotional weight riding on the ending.
I’m very much impressed by Crouch’s storytelling here, managing to create enough disorientation in the reader to lure us forward in hopes of finding answers, without so much that it becomes overwhelming. I’ll be reading him again!