Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Recursion by Blake Crouch
Crown (June 2019)
336 pages; $16.30 hardcover; $17.98 paperback; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

What happens when reality…isn’t? When memories can’t be trusted, but they can possibly be manipulated to hold onto the times we hold most dear. If you could talk to that parent who’s slipping away into dementia, re-experience the birth of your first child, hear his/her first words, or keep that love burning by forever traveling back to that exhilarating time in your relationship—would you do it? Most of us would, even if we won’t admit it.

Blake Crouch has taken the crown as the new king of high-concept thriller fiction. His Wayward Pines trilogy broke him out of obscurity, and Dark Matter shot him into the stratosphere. Now, with Recursion, he enters a world all his own in a thriller that is both fascinating and utterly frightening.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for something to keep her mother’s dementia at bay, something to hold on to her only meaningful relationship in life. In her fervor, she builds a machine with the help of an odd benefactor (whose story is something that twirls this thriller into something different—he’s not an old man grasping onto a last breath, but it’s much weirder). The machine that she constructs on a site far from society just may be able to build new realities for people, new memories for them to embrace.

Detective Barry Sutton has been attempting to figure out this “False Memory Syndrome” after failing to stop a woman’s suicide, a woman who claims to have lived a life that’s not her own. He lost his own daughter to a tragic accident years ago, and when he presses deep into corners he’s warned to steer clear of, he’s given a chance to relive the memories with her…but there’s a catch. A big one.

While the premise may seem simple, a Monkey’s Paw-like “be careful for what you wish” scenario, don’t let this deter you. Crouch has carved out a niche for himself that takes these simple ideas and builds worlds out of them that twist and turn faster than a demon on adrenaline overload. Reality begins to unravel as Helena and Barry’s lifelines intertwine…but which lifelines? After a hundred pages or so, one’s mind begins to spin in an attempt to hold onto the whirlwind plot, deciphering what’s real and what’s false memory—and if it matters which is which.

Their adventure sweeps the reader into a technologically rich thriller that explains the science while never losing the humanity of the story. The psychology that Crouch delves into turns out to be more crucial to the characters and plot than a simple device that threatens to upend the entire world.

If that sounds like a tall order for a sci-fi thriller, it is. Crouch deftly pulls it off, just as he has with all of his thrillers. Recursion is truly frightening, as the science feels all too real. He makes it feel as if this can all happen tomorrow—or is already happening, and we’re just waiting to figure it out.

Highly recommended reading that readers will rip through in a night or two.

1 thought on “Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch”

  1. I absolutely loved this book. So elegantly written and the way Blake Crouch interweaves the two stories into one is masterful. I have recommended this book to many friends already.

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