I was overcome by two main emotions when I finished this novel.
The first was a sense of utter contentment stemming from how much I enjoyed it.
The second was a sense of pleasant confusion; a nice kind of ‘what the hell ride did I just go on?’ type emotion.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is a good book. It’s a personal, closely written love story that starts in the most charming way.
A guy, a woman, and their kid all having a family dinner night. The guy, Jason Dessen, is sent out to buy ice cream. He is a small town college professor who gave up the ambition and dream of being a world-leading quantum physics researcher to have a family. And he seemingly has no regrets about his decision. Jason is happy, as is Daniela, an artist, who also gave up her dream to have a family. Their bond and love for each other is instantly clear to the reader.
But when Jason is out getting ice cream, someone abducts him at gun point, and forces him to drive to an abandoned building where he is drugged. As unconsciousness claims him, he hears one question:
‘Are you happy with your life?’
And this is where the pace of the story ramps up into overdrive and where it stays. The rest of the novel is incredibly fast to read. You follow Jason as he wakes up in an uncanny valley type of world. A Chicago that is similar but not quite the one he recognises, there are things subtly different and when he goes home, he finds his whole life has changed.
If you could go back in time and change a choice you made, would you do it? If you could pick a different trade, different degree, different partner, would you? Have you ever imagined what that other world, other life, might be like?
That’s what Blake Crouch asks in Dark Matter. Jason Dessen is thrust into another version of his life. One where he is a superstar quantum physicist, a person who cracked the conundrum of superimposing a full-scale object into a quantum state (this is explained in the novel but to do it here might spoil it). Daniela is a famous artist, and their son Charlie, doesn’t exist.
Despite the fame and fortune this version of Jason achieved in the new Chicago, the original Jason just wants to get home to the Chicago he recognises and the rest of the novel is him trying to do that.
He isn’t alone for most of it, however, in the faux-Chicago that he has been dumped, he finds help in Amanda Lucas. A disappointingly one-dimensional character who seems to exist only to fall in love with Jason and help him muddle through some small plot contrivances. This is the main part of the novel that didn’t sit well with me. Amanda is framed as an extremely intelligent and beautiful woman who sacrifices everything to go with Jason on his quest to find his family. But that’s kind of it. Crouch doesn’t do a whole lot with her except have her as Jason’s side-kick and I think that is a wasted opportunity.
But whilst Amanda may lack depth, Jason, Daniela, and their son Charlie definitely do not. They are the heart of this novel and you root for Jason as he jumps through different versions of Chicago in a seemingly infinitely impossible quest to find the person he loves once more.
This story doesn’t stop until the very last page. Crouch has you on the edge of your seat and when the penny drops about what is going on, the intrigue and puzzle solving aspect of the novel shifts perfectly into action and adventure.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is a fun book to read. It isn’t perfect, it’s silly, funny, horrifying at times, and will make you think back on your own life and ask yourself what could have been.
It is an intimate family story that has infinite scope, a tightly written love story that stretches beyond the bounds of the universe.
Check your preconceived notions about reality at the door and sit back and enjoy the ride.