Are you happy with your life? Have your choices led you down the right path? How can you ever know what the right path is? Is there some alternate version of you living a life you could only dream of somewhere in the multiverse? In Dark Matter, Blake Crouch packages these questions in a psychological thriller. This science fiction-drama-thriller mashup moves fast, asks a lot of questions, and explores big ideas and themes all in the space of ~350 pages. From the first word to the last, Dark Matter captivates.
Jason Dessen lives in Chicago with his wife, Daniela, and his teenaged son, Charlie. Jason teaches at a local university, and Daniela both teaches and creates art. They live in a brownstone in Logan Square, and they are happy. But thoughts of what might have been, possibilities long-dead, linger in their minds. Jason, by most accounts, is a genius whose research could’ve fundamentally altered humanity’s understanding of the universe while Daniela, a brilliant creative mind, could have produced some of the world’s greatest artwork. And while those possibilities rest in the backs of their minds, they enjoy their prosperous and mostly happy life together. Until one night, when Jason is kidnapped on his walk home, drugged, and knocked out by a mysterious man in a mask. When Jason wakes up, the world is different. His wife…isn’t his wife. His life has changed completely, and he is a world-renowned quantum physicist. Rattled by the past 24 hours and unsure what is happening, Jason ventures into this new bizarro world in search of answers.
I read Dark Matter over the course of three days–a rapid clip compared to my normal reading pace–simply because I had so much fun reading it. Crouch has a way of pushing Jason’s story into unfamiliar territory with sharp turns of phrase and incredibly fast pacing. Dark Matter is a bonafide edge-of-your-seat novel that effortlessly combines the quickfire plot reveals of the thriller genre with tried-and-true science fiction tropes. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable book that I expect many readers will devour in a matter of hours. Also, it’s set in Chicago, which is the quickest way to this midwestern reviewer’s heart. But the biggest selling point for me is Crouch’s deft handling of the implications his ideas have on the world. Jason’s romp through the multiverse poses so many questions, and because he is a genius physicist, information can flow through him (and to the reader) without blatant exposition. Because Jason understands these concepts, we are free to explore them alongside him instead of feeling like we’re in the dark and he’s the only one with a flashlight.
Personally, I enjoyed the characters of Dark Matter, Jason especially, but only superficially. Because the plot is lightning fast, it’s automatically the feature, the labyrinth the reader explores alongside Jason. The characters, then, feel like guides or perhaps gentle hints reminding the reader where they’re headed. Like I said, Jason has a flashlight, but he isn’t always pointing it directly at the next turn. This is, by all means, completely fine. But I wanted more out of Dark Matter’s characters, likely because I’m so used to heavily character-focused fantasy and sci-fi tales.
Another unique selling point of Dark Matter is the prose. It’s staccato. Truncated. Crouch writes in quick bursts, giving you short thoughts from the characters’ minds in just a few words hanging on their own line of text. It’s a great format that I really enjoyed, as it spurs the reading along. The rapid-fire style of storytelling greatly enhances the thriller’s atmosphere. Crouch does this to serve the plot, and to reflect the nature of the book. Dark Matter deals with different worlds, and Jason’s situation feels catalyzed and embodied by the text. There’s no flowery, lyrical prose here. Only rapid movement from one idea to the next as both Jason and the reader find their footing. Be warned, at times you might feel jerked around by the text and could struggle with his style, but it is worth it.
All in all, Blake Crouch’s sci-fi/thriller combo gave me a swift, fun, and thought-provoking story. It’s one of those books that feels perennially recommendable; everyone can find something to enjoy in Dark Matter. I certainly did.