RECURSION, by Blake Crouch


Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter was one of the most interesting and engrossing recent discoveries I made, so that once I started seeing Recursion mentioned on the blogosphere, I was eager to learn where the author would narratively lead me this time. Much as that earlier book proved to be an enjoyable read, Recursion stands several notches above it, and even though it requires a very intense focus and some suspension of disbelief, it kept me enthralled for the whole journey and indeed deserved the often-misused term of “unputdownable”.

I have long debated with myself about how to review this book, because it presents the tough challenge of talking about it without venturing into spoiler territory – and believe me, you don’t want to be spoiled about the twists and surprises of this story. So forgive me if I will end up sounding enigmatic or, worse, unclear about the plot, but this novel is best appreciated when you go into it sight unseen…

One of the two main points of view in Recursion is that of Barry Sutton, a troubled New York cop: recently divorced from his wife, he’s burdened with the pain for the death of his teenaged daughter Meghan, who eleven years prior was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. The anguish for the girl’s death proved to be the last blow to an already faltering marriage, and now all Barry has to cling to are his work and the alcohol he consumes in worrisome quantities. As the novel opens he’s been called to assist the patrolmen dealing with an attempted suicide: a woman sitting on the ledge of a tall building wants to end her life because she fell prey to False Memory Syndrome. FMS is an affliction that causes the victims to suddenly get a whole range of memories, described as “grey and flat” but still feeling very real, that point to a very different path to one’s life. The dichotomy between the two sets of memories is cause for such distress, in the afflicted individuals, that they often choose to end their life: Barry is unable to stop the woman from jumping, but the connection with FMS compels him to look deeper into the issue, finding much more than he bargained for.

The other player is Helena Smith, a scientist studying the neurological processes of the brain: her goal is to map human memories so that they can be implanted in the brain in case of memory loss. Helena is strongly motivated by her mother’s battle with Alzheimer, and has developed the basis for such a recording process, but funding and time are running out and she despairs of ever being able to fulfill her dream – that is, until billionaire Marcus Slade offers her the chance of turning it into reality. Unfortunately, where money and profit come into play, the “purity” of science suffers, and Helena finds out that her brilliant discovery is being used in a way she would never have predicted.

What I feel comfortable in sharing of the plot, at this point, is that Helena’s breakthrough and the spread of FMS are linked and that the unforeseen application of her technology ends up having profound effects on time and reality, with the world headed toward a massive catastrophe that Helena and Barry – once they team up – are deadly set on trying to avert.

Recursion is a successful blend of science fiction and thriller, and as such – not unlike Crouch’s Dark Matter – offers the readers a breathless journey with mounting stakes and devastating scenarios ranging from mass suicides to nuclear holocaust, with apparently little space dedicated to character development, which is hardly surprising since it’s more plot-oriented than character driven. And yet, on careful consideration, there is a clearly identifiable focus on human traits as personality and memory, which are viewed as interconnected sides of what makes us what we are: if memory is one of the facets that defines us – and we see this in the progressive loss of self suffered by Alzheimer victims – the altering of our memories, the erasure of the experiences that forge human beings as they live their life, is exposed as the ultimate violation, whose extreme consequences are portrayed with the same dramatic impact of an unstoppable avalanche.

Both Helena and Barry are flawed individuals whose actions stem from the need of righting the wrongness in their lives – Helena losing her mother to Alzheimer, Barry feeling the guilt for not protecting her daughter – and for this reason it’s easy to forgive their mistakes, and the way they are doomed to repeat them. The second half of the book sees them desperately trying to correct those mistakes, leading toward some emotionally charged pages that made me forget I was dealing with fictional characters, to care deeply for their success and to feel devastated in observing their failures. Their relationship, and its various iterations in the course of the story (apologies for the obscure reference…) looks like one of the few fixed points in the narrative, and one that even I, despite my wariness for romantic subplots, found unobjectionable.

If I have to find a flaw in this novel – and it’s the reason it’s not getting a full rating – is my puzzlement about one of the plot points, an action (again, apologies for the muddy wording) that’s first indicated as impossible, a choice of path that can only end in the death of the performer and does so with the first and only subject who attempts it. Toward the end of the book, however, it’s indicated as the only way to avoid entropy, and I’m still not clear how it works for the main character… Still, it’s a minor nitpick and it certainly did nothing to spoil my overall enjoyment of Recursion, or to lessen my enthusiasm and curiosity in learning that this novel is going to be turned into a TV series soon.


My Rating:

33 thoughts on “RECURSION, by Blake Crouch

  1. Interesting, you’ve read it too. I loved Dark Matter, but in the end, while Recursion is entertaining indeed, I hated it because there are so many plot holes and inconstencies. If you’re interested, I have a list of questions about those in my review of this book, so if you’re able to answer any of those, that would be neat, as some of the might be the result of uncareful reading from my part. But please don’t feel pressured to do so!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The plot holes and inconsistencies are there, granted, as they were in Dark Matter, but I believe it all boils down to how much the reader gets involved in the story: I was recently quite sarcastic about a story that presented many inconsistencies and a few glaring impossibilities, but in that case the narrative skill was on a different level and I was able to be both reader and dispassionate observer. With Crouch, the nitipicking comes after the fact, if ever, because his storytelling style is able to keep the Grumbling Critic at bay 😀
      I have taken a look at your questions, and all I can say for now is an echo of Captain Janeway’s famous sentence about the headache that always accompanies temporal paradoxes 😉 But I might have something more once I ponder those questions a little longer…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For me the nitipicking pretty quickly happened, so it ruined my reading experience. Dark Matter had whole lot less of that, aside from the overal idea of branching multiple worlds obviously, so I don’t think they compare that well.

        Anyhow, good that it worked for you!!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. See, that is where I differ from a lot of other book bloggers. Authors aren’t human, they’re authors 😉

        I’ve only been disappointed by authors when I start to treat them like humans instead of authors, hahahaa!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. True, but unlike other authors he possesses the uncommon skill of keeping the readers engaged while the story goes on. Later we can come up with all kinds of nitpicks, but while the story flows, we can keep the Inner Critic locked up… 😀


  2. I was actually underwhelmed by Dark Matter and decided against reading Recursion as I saw that the same problems are mentioned in reviews of the latter – plot holes and inconsistencies in a SF (with stress on science) novel drive me crazy 😉
    That said, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Inconsistencies in scientific details can be expected in speculative fiction because generally authors tend to impart a specific twist to a rule – what usually works for me is how they choose to turn those rules upside down: if the author does it in a believable way (at least from my uninformed point of view), then I can stay aboard for the ride as long as it lasts, otherwise I start seeing the cracks in the background 😁 That’s when the complaints start… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My main woe was of a more psychological nature – the small differences in experiences of the same person amounting to unbelievably vast differences in their personalities afterwards, with the single-minded obsession with family unchanged. It might have make an entertaining read, but unfortunately quite unconvincing for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The different personality traits in the main character’s iterations did not bother me, while I was quite puzzled when the “original” one remained the only “good guy” while the other ones could kill without qualms. It felt contrived, but it did mar my involvement with the story. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to see another great review for this one! I’ve been interested in it as well since seeing some reviews last year, I enjoyed another book by him (Dark Matter). Might have to check this one out!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like such a Blake Crouch book. Lol. I mean that in a good way. I like when an author is distinct enough that you’d recognize their stamp if you went in blind.

    Otherwise- this is on sale in the US Kindle store for $2.99 so it sounds like I need to take advantage of that. Fantastic review Maddalena!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And yes, after two books I believe I might buy anything he writes sight unseen, now.
      His stories require some suspension of disbelief, granted, but he writes in such a way that it’s not an effort at all: I might nitpick later, but while I’m reading I’m totally sold! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely loved Dark Matter but gave up on Recursion. I was having a hard tine concentrating/ following the story. I think I was not in the right frame of mind at the time. After reading your review I am going to give it another try. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.