Recursion by Blake Crouch
Publisher: Crown | Release Date: June 11, 2019 | Pages: 336
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Odds are, you’ve seen that picture of an iceberg online a thousand times — the one that shows 10% of the ice breaking above the water, while that enormous remaining 90% lies hidden beneath arctic waters (just google “iceberg meme” if you’re unfamiliar). That’s what reading Blake Crouch reminds me of. There’s that small surface idea you can latch onto, but the intelligence, concepts, and flat-out craziness of its execution have so much depth lurking beneath the initial premise. You never quite know what you’re getting into regardless of how simplistic the 10% pitch sounds, beyond knowing full well that things are going to get slippery in short order, because Crouch is going to take you into an incredibly deep dive through the other 90% and show you just how complex and rocky the rest of that iceberg really is.
If you read Crouch’s previous outing, Dark Matter, then you have a fair idea of what to expect with Recursion. While the former dealt with alternate realities, the latter tackles the issue of False Memory Syndrome…or at least that’s where things begin. As Crouch plumbs the fallibility and flexibility of memories and a startlingly bright premise of how and where such false memories could originate from, this sucker takes on more wrinkles than Einstein’s brain.
The bulk of Recursion is told through the perspective of two central characters, Detective Barry Sutton and Dr. Helena Smith. Smith is a neuroscientist seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s in the hope of curing her’s mother terminal descent into dementia. Her plan is construct a machine that can record a person’s most valued memories for posterity. Sutton, meanwhile, is investigating the devastating rise of False Memory reports following his failure to prevent a woman’s suicide. The woman, Ann Voss Peters, couldn’t handle the mental rewiring of her memories as she was forced to reconcile the life she thought she knew with the radically different life she suddenly remembers. The deeper Sutton’s investigation goes, the more he learns…and the more questions he uncovers. It potent, heady stuff, and then Crouch, as he’s wont to do, turns it all sideways, upside down, and shakes the ever-loving hell out of it.
Now, I have to tell you, flat-out, that discussing anything more about Recursion would have me wading up to my neck in spoiler territory so I’m going to avoid discussing any of the plot’s specifics. I will say, though, that what Sutton and Smith get up to and the forces they confront are every bit as twisty and turny as the cover image’s infinite loop and the maze etched inside that figure-eight.
Crouch is a master at delivering a bonkers, high-concept story that’s easily accessible, but which also mocks the entire idea of being simple. Tackling a subject like False Memory Syndrome is a storytelling mine filled with diamond-encrusted potential, but Crouch takes it into next-gen territory, leveling up his premise with each successive chapter. There’s a heavy load of physics at play here, and the author utilizes Newton’s third law regarding action/reaction magnificently. Consequences build and build and build before erupting with glorious devastation in a climax that cranks things up to eleven. And then twelve. And then thirteen. And then, amidst so much rich, chewy brain-candy, he delivers a tear-jerker denouement that goes straight for the heart.
Recursion is high on action and moves along with the speed of a bullet train, but all its most potent brawn comes straight from the brain. I don’t know what Crouch’s background is, but having read several of his prior novels I’m now pretty damn well convinced the dude is a diabolical genius. Crouch is smart, damn smart, and he knows how to leverage all those hugely cerebral ideas into rapid-fire page-turners of science fiction gold. His are the types of books I don’t just read, but devour and am immediately left hungry for more. Whatever he’s cooking up next, I am more than ready for it.