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Dark Matter


Dark Matter

Blake Crouch has always been amazing. His first two books, DESERT PLACES and its sequel, LOCKED DOORS, remain among my favorite entries in the horror/serial killer/thriller genre. He came back after a hiatus with ABANDON, a western that I loved as much for what it was as for what it wasn’t. Then he did the impossible by dragging me back (initially kicking and screaming) to the science fiction genre with his Wayward Pines trilogy, in the process scoring a television series based on it. As if all of that weren’t enough, the guy keeps topping himself, this time with a book called DARK MATTER that --- regardless of who you are, what genres you enjoy, or whether or not you even like to read -- you’re going to embrace wholeheartedly.

DARK MATTER spoke and sung to me. I have a list I keep of life-changing mistakes I’ve made, ones for which I’d ask for a mulligan if given the chance. I’m not so sure about that list after reading this book. The story is narrated in the first person present by Jason Dessen, a highly respected but otherwise unnoteworthy professor living in Chicago who teaches an undergraduate course in quantum mechanics. Jason was once a bright and rising star in the world of quantum physics research, but when confronted with a choice, he made the right though difficult one. The same could be said of his wife, Daniela, who turned her back on a career as a multimedia artist. They don’t have any real regrets, and they love their son, Charlie, a great kid who is on the cusp of adolescence. Still, there are times when Jason wonders what might have been.

"Exciting, suspenseful and frightening, yet also poignant and heartwarming, DARK MATTER is one of the best books of any year…or any reality."

As the novel opens, Jason, at his wife’s urging, leaves their house to make a brief, pre-family dinner appearance at a soiree being held in honor of a friend who has been awarded the Pavia Prize for physics, an honor that might well have been Jason’s had he turned his life in a different direction. However, everything changes for him on his walk home from the party. He is accosted by a masked man who kidnaps him and injects him with a substance that renders him unconscious. Jason awakens to a roomful of strangers who herald him as a genius in a world that has changed. He is no longer married to Daniela and doesn’t have a son named Charlie, but he does have that Pavia Prize.

Is it a dream? Is it a hallucination? Not at all. Someone has put Jason’s theories, which deal with alternate universes, into practice and inserted him right into the mix. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he wants his life back, the one he knows but didn’t always appreciate. He figures out, with assistance from a somewhat surprising source, how to do this, at least theoretically. The road home, however, is longer and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Nothing, though, will compare to the dangers that Jason --- and his family --- will face if and when he makes it back. But is he back? And where is back? You will have to read the book to find out, but you’ll enjoy every word of it as you do so.

You don’t have to know anything about quantum mechanics to appreciate DARK MATTER, but I guarantee that you will increase your understanding of the subject after reading it. Crouch gives a short, concise and understandable explanation of the theory in bits and pieces throughout the narrative, and uses it as an ultimately terrifying element. In the closing pages of the book, he flips the script and turns a secondary character into a major one; gives us a romance and love story; scares the living hell out of the reader; and throws in enough action here, there and everywhere to fill a couple of books. All of this happens in a little over 300 pages that you will be compelled to finish before you go to bed. As you do so, you may detect echoes of classic science fiction authors such as Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick. Actually (and yes, this may be considered blasphemy, but so be it), Crouch finishes the work that Dick left undone.

Exciting, suspenseful and frightening, yet also poignant and heartwarming, DARK MATTER is one of the best books of any year…or any reality.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 29, 2016

Dark Matter
by Blake Crouch