Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Crown (June 11, 2019)
Length: 336 pages
If the best thrillers make you feel breathless, then Recursion by Blake Crouch is definitely one you don’t want to miss! I also laughed, fretted, and raged a little. Heck, I’m not ashamed to admit I even cried some. I swear, if all books were this exciting and addictive, there’d be no such thing as reading slumps. But then I guess we’d also be in a lot of trouble, because nothing would ever get done and no one would ever leave their house again.
So what is this book about? Well, as with all of Crouch’s books, giving a quick rundown of the premise is going to be tough. For one thing, you don’t want to run even the tiniest, eensy-weensy risk of revealing any spoilers, because for best results, you really should go in blind. Second, this author is somewhat known for his wild premises and mind-bending, difficult-to-explain sci-fi tech and theory (if you’ve read Dark Matter, then you know what I’m talking about) and there were times where trying to wrap my head around this book made me think my brain was going to short circuit. Still, here’s the gist: Recursion opens following New York City police officer Barry Sutton as he responds to reports of a suicide attempt by a woman about to jump off the ledge of a high-rise building. Following the event, the shaken cop is driven to learn more about the illness termed False Memory Syndrome—an alarming epidemic that is starting to sweep across the nation, afflicting its victims with vivid memories of a life they never lived. Ten percent of those with FMS end up killing themselves, driven mad by the conflicting realities in their mind.
At the same time, we’re also introduced our second POV, a brilliant neuroscientist named Helena Smith. After her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Helena became obsessed with developing her new technology which would help human beings preserve the most precious memories of their lives. However, the future of her research was soon placed in jeopardy, with both precious time and money running out, so when a mysterious benefactor suddenly approaches her with an offer to fully fund her work and provide her access to all the necessary resources and facilities, Helena decides to accept. Very quickly, her team starts making incredible breakthroughs, ultimately creating a device which would essentially allow anyone to relive their most significant, life-changing moments. But during testing, they also discover an unintended side effect, one that would have devastating consequences on the world if the truth of the technology was ever revealed and misused.
Blending theories of time travel, alternate realities, and psychological phenomena, what Recursion basically presents to us is a completely unique and refreshingly new take on some familiar ideas. Like most stories to do with memory manipulation though, it can also be a real head-trip. That said, to an extent I do think that the key to approaching and enjoying these kinds of stories is to not think about them too hard, and just go with the flow. Crouch isn’t going to delve too deeply into the science, so it wouldn’t really do to get into the whys and hows. Personally speaking, once I started thinking of the premise as more of a thought experiment, that was when I was able to let go and allow myself to be carried away by the novel completely.
The momentum of Recursion was also relentlessly fast-paced and engrossing, though for those who have read Dark Matter, there was a similar brief lull in the middle part of narrative where the characters sat in a holding pattern while trying to figure stuff out. And like a lot of books dealing with time, memory, etc., you are going to have your fair share of plot holes and a few explanations that don’t hold water. Hence, I’m not going to argue that this novel was perfect, because it was not—but after a lot of thought, I did decide to bump up my rating to a full five stars. I did this because of the deeper meanings I found behind the story. Yes, this is a sci-fi thriller we’re talking about, but leaving aside the action and suspense I expected to find, there was also a emotional depth that surprised me—messages like, don’t take the good things in your life for granted, or always treasure your loved ones and hold them and their memories dear. I certainly did not anticipate to find so many of these tender and touching moments in the book, many of which almost brought me to tears, and the ending did in fact make me cry a little.
As I always say, sometimes it takes more than just a great premise, great characters, and a great story to make a five-star book. For me, there almost always has to be an emotional connection. More than anything else, I think that was why I enjoyed Recursion so much, because not only did the novel deliver a fast-paced and mind-bendingly suspenseful thriller full of twists and turns, there were also parts of it that deeply moved me—and ultimately, it’s these moments that elevate this book above others in the genre and why it will also remain with me for a long time.