© 2016 Blake Crouch
Jason Desseys is a first-rate physicist, one who could have earned his place in the history books alongside Feynman, Planck, and Hawking. He chose instead to focus on an unexpected role as a father, and has built a happy if not extraordinary life for himself – but that life is suddenly stolen from him one night on a walk home. A masked stranger whose voice and build seem oddly familiar kidnaps Jason, injects him with something mysterious, and he wakes, it’s to a stranger’s life. Jason is surrounded by ambitious, aggressive people who believe him to be someone he’s not, and he knows his life to be in danger – and as he begins to put the pieces together of what happened, Jason realizes the truth is even worse than he suspected. In Dark Matter, Blake Crouch delivers another emotionally powerful thriller with its feet solidly in quantum mechanics.
It’s practically impossible to comment on the plot here without dropping spoilers, so let me describe it simply: think Nicholas Cage’s The Family Man, but as a science fiction film relying on theories about the multiverse, and in which the main character is both the protagonist and one of the antagonists. Moving further into spoiler territory….
Dessen as a young man made a choice, whether to prioritize his family or his career. He chose his family, but another instance of him chose the career – and while both Jasons have wondered what their life might have been like had they gone a different route, the ruthless and career-focused Jason was able to create the means to find out, and was obsessed enough with what he saw in his alter-ego’s life to attempt to exchange places with him. Similarly ruthless are the people alt-Jason worked with, which is why Jason’s life is in such danger: the technology employed is still in the initial testing phase and is so concealed that even key members of the project don’t know what their contributions were used for. After being exposed and captured, Jason escapes into the very machine that stole his life, and tries to find his way back home through a soul-crushing series of alternate lives. Even when he finds his beginning, the drama isn’t over. It isn’t as simple as finding the man who replaced him and introducing him to a six-foot hole in the forest; Dessen’s extended journeys through the multiverse have resulted in dozens of nearly-identical instances of himself converging, all with the same goal: to get back to ‘their’ wife and child.
Although thematically Dark Matter is very similar to Recursion, in that they both address regret, suffering, and the need to come to terms with one’s choices, Dark Matter’s plot is more straightforward. It’s no less interesting for that, though, considering that Jason is fighting not only the inherent confusion of navigating the multiverse, but himself – many versions of himself, most with the same passion and intelligence as he but at least a few whose minds have been made sharper and who have lost more of their moral scruples along the way. Dark Matter is my second Crouch in the past week, and I’ll definitely continue reading him. He’s very good at attaching readers’ sympathies to his main characters, throwing them into fascinating situations, and making the reader think about not only technical possibility, but the importance of valuing the people in our lives and making the most of every moment.