SF/F: Dark Matter  by Blake Crouch

51yRIVigTYL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_You’ve Never Read Anything Like Dark Matter.

There. I said it.

The new novel by Blake Crouch, is a terrifying, enthralling, lightning-fast, brilliant book. You have no idea how much I want to write about it. I want to tell you everything about it, but that would spoil everything, and that would be very, very bad. Because Dark Matter is the kind of book you want to know absolutely nothing about. Further, to get the full, mind-blowing effect, you really need to know nothing about it.

Here’s what I knew about the book before I started reading it:

  1. A guy is knocked unconscious.
  2. He wakes up and is welcomed “back.”
  3. Where he wakes up looks like his life, but it’s not his life. Everything is different. Some things in obvious ways, others in subtle ones.
  4. Now what?

That’s it.

Oh, and the guy’s name is Jason. He’s married, he and wife have a teenaged son, and they live in Chicago.

Dark Matter is about the choices we make, the countless pick-and-choose moments we encounter every moment of every day. It’s about the choices we make without even thinking about them. We eat this. We turn right. We get up early. We cook.

It’s our choices that give shape to our lives. But what about the lives we don’t live? What about the lives we would live if we chose differently? What if we ate that? What if we turned left? Slept in? Went out for dinner? Each choice is the entry point for another, alternate life.

It’s those choices, as well as their consequences, that Dark Matter explores.

What’s happened to Jason’s life? Why isn’t he married to his wife? Where is their son? How the hell did things get this way? Why aren’t they the way they were? And why aren’t they the way Jason wants them?

In every novel you’ve ever read, the hero has a life. Drama and conflict conspire to screw things up, but he makes his way through it. Dark Matter presents a very different kind of narrative, one in which the hero has infinite lives, each one powered by some other choice. It’s a thriller that’s also a love story that’s also a fable that’s also an alternate-universe, sci-fi mind-blower.

Crouch’s writing is silky. He’s building a world on many different levels, juggling countless plotlines as well as constructing sentences and moments that are needle-tip precise, trimmed back to the most essential words. Each scene has the tension of a jack-in-the-box. Each character is tightly sketched and utterly believable. Each choice changes the direction of the book.

If all this sounds crazy to you, if all this sounds like experimental fiction, if all this sounds hyperbolic, believe me when I say it only sounds like that. This is not a complex and indecipherable novel that’s in love with itself, like those by Mark Z. Danielewski, such as House of Leaves and The Familiar, his 27-volume serial novel. This book is a joy to read, a joy.

For all its considerable razzle-dazzle—it’ll leave you breathless—Dark Matter is actually a rather simple story. That’s the solid foundation of both its charm and power. It’s the story of one man and a course of events that inspire him to examine his life in ways none of us has ever been able to. It’s one of the most entertaining, inventive, and chilling novels of the year. ◊

 

Tony Buchsbaum

Tony Buchsbaum lives in Lawrenceville, NJ. He's been a writer almost as long as he's been alive, and he's at work on several new projects, among them creating two wonderful people out of two extraordinary sons.

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