Books

Blake Crouch’s ‘Recursion’ is a Mind-Bending Novel to End the Summer With

Crown“Recursion” follows the stories of an NYPD detective and a neuroscientist.

Summer is coming to an abrupt end and that means it’s time to cram in one more leisurely read while there’s still a chance. With all the books that have come out this summer, Blake Crouch’s “Recursion” is  gripping and completely mind-boggling. 

Blake Crouch, the best-selling author of “Dark Matter,” is the master of science fiction writing. His work continues to bring fresh, what-if scenarios to the literary world, and his newest novel “Recursion” — released June 11 — is no exception. A story of the validity of the mind, and the fragile state in which we all live, Crouch brings twists and turns no one could expect. 

The novel begins in 2018 with Barry Sutton — an NYPD detective — as he witnesses the suicide of Ann Voss, who suffers of False Memory Syndrome. In the novel, FMS is a fairly new disease and one people don’t understand. The illness causes people to remember a life completely different from the one they lived, with vivid memories of the ones they loved and things they did that never existed. It becomes too much for the mind to cope with and drives the characters to take their lives.

Ann wakes up one morning with a splitting headache, a nosebleed and vivid memories of a son she doesn’t have, driving her mad. Barry is completely enthralled by this case and begins to investigate, leading him to places he never expects.

Crouch then takes readers back to 2007, when he introduces Helena Smith, a neuroscientist trying to invent a chair that will vividly replay memories in one’s head as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, a lifelong goal for her mother suffering with memory loss. Helena doesn’t get very far though. That is, until a mysterious man walks into her office and offers her a large sum of money to fund her work.

While it can be confusing when characters’ stories are told simultaneously, Crouch executes this with ease.  Both Barry and Helena have time to evolve throughout the book without one overshadowing the other. Not only do both characters’ stories have to drift apart, they also have to merge together.

The intensity  of the novel comes from the anticipation of knowing what Helena does in the past affects what happens to Barry in the future. The small details, like Helena’s research as a scientist and Barry’s actions as a cop, are interwoven between all the timelines throughout the novel. The reader slowly starts to see things come together. Crouch does what he knows best: convinces the reader they know the answer when they don’t.

What Helena creates leads to False Memory Syndrome, that much is understood, but it also creates things far worse. Soon readers see the world in chaos, trying to distinguish reality from fantasy.

“Recursion” meshes intricate science with gripping storytelling —which is no simple feat. It might be simple for authors to overpower one element over the other, but Crouch successfully balances the two. His ideas of time travel and memory machines don’t seem too far-fetched. 

“Recursion” has much to boast — the tale is filled with ever-evolving characters that are sure to leave their mark on readers and Crouch’s attention to detail is unlike any other. Despite this, his writing can be heavy and at times confusing, simply because the complexity can be hard to keep straight. There are times when re-reading is necessary, but once the details are understood, it’s hard not to be awed.

The novel also asks important ethical questions such as, “Just because we can, does that mean we should?” In an era where technology expands daily, people must always assess how far they should really be going. The story is perfectly summed when Barry thinks to himself, “Life with a cheat code isn’t life. Our existence isn’t something to be engineered or optimized for the avoidance of pain. That’s what it is to be human — the beauty and the pain, both meaningless without the other.”

“Recursion” can be purchased at book retailers or online.

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