Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

This was a good book. Here’s the blurb:

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

OK, so this blurb oversells it a little bit, but it’s still a really good novel. It’d be a good base-measurement for all other modern-day SF novels. Especially multiverse ones. “Is it at least as well-written and well-plotted as this? Yes or no.”

The first part of the novel explores the concept “Can you have it all?” but the male version. Jason, our MC, often wonders what his life would have been like if he hadn’t had to put his career on hold for family (because guys totally have to do that all of the time. Totally). Basically, Jason2 swaps lives with Jason1 because he regrets focusing on his work and not settling down.

Not to go into full feminist deconstruction mode, but there are only really 2 female characters in this whole thing–his wife (and the multiple versions of her) and someone named Amanda that get tossed aside when she’s no longer needed as an encouragement device to keep him puttering along to “find his family.” It does not, as far as I can remember, pass the Bechdel test.

The writing is clear and concise and sparse. It reads like a script in some parts, like a poem in others. But not because it is poetic. Because it is so scarce. More like phrases than sentences. Which I’m not complaining about. It makes for an enjoyable, quick read.

The funniest part of the book is when Daniela is catching on that Jason is not Jason and she thinks “Does he have cancer and isn’t telling me?” because she can’t figure out why he’s acting so happy and odd.

I also loved the part where MC Jason is admiring Jason2’s work…how he’s impressed with himself for figuring out how to travel through multi-verses. Sometimes I look back in old diaries or art piece and think “huh. I was on to something there. I was right.” That’s the closest I think humans can ever get to experiencing something like Jason felt.

SPOILERS beyond this point:

So, a few issues I had with the concepts of this story were: the bad guy version of Jason — Jason2 — really could have had Daniella the whole time in his own world *and* been successful. Sure, not at the same time — but one right after the other, though. He *could* have had it all. Jason 1 waltzed right “back” into her life no problem (when he was in Jason2’s world). Jason2 could have done the same without going to the trouble of ruining his other verses’ lives. Let’s be honest, kids can come at any time. Jason2 could have had his own kid at any point with Daniella… Why did it have to be Charlie? He had never been in love with Charlie.

I found the “door” metaphor kind of cliche — how that was their brain trying to make sense of the multiverse or something. It seemed Matrix-y and I wish that my own brain could think of something more original but even I can’t. I guess that’s another point to the book. Nothing wowed me or impressed me beyond its “good”-ness.

At times the exploring of the various “verses” got a little melodramatic…But overall they were effective as showing his longing for his family.

The climax turns into a weird Rick and Morty-esque scenario where there’s all these Jasons fighting fighting over the same Daniela and Charlie. I even teared up a little when they were moving through the sea of Jasons… I guess I was picturing how I would treat myself in this situation.

I almost think it’d be cool to have a copy of myself. One could be the Work Amanda, the other could be the Creative Amanda. A husband and wife Amanda. Now I know what you’re thinking. The other Amanda would get jealous. But no, I think Work Amanda could rest assured knowing that the other Amanda has her shit together. Wouldn’t just waste time. Plus, I could bounce ideas off myself. I could watch what kind of person I become in both scenarios. Two Pandas are sooo better than one. But I don’t know if I’d want as many Pandas out there as there were Jasons. How would I feed all of them?

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review



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