Written by Lauryn Smith
Imagine experiencing another version of your life, one in which you made different, potentially life-altering decisions. Some aspects might be better, others worse. Perhaps you do not notice much of a change. Maybe your life is catastrophically altered. Black Crouch lays the groundwork for this thought experiment in his alternate universe book, “Dark Matter.” For me, reading science fiction has never been so much fun. This book is un-put-down-able. You know those books that you cannot wait to get back to, even while enjoying other activities? “Dark Matter” is one of those.
Crouch details the story of Jason Dessen, a physics teacher at a Chicago college. I mean, a renowned theoretical physicist. Wait. Dessen is actually both, and each persona lives in a different dimension. Crouch establishes the former as the story’s protagonist. This Dessen, AKA Jason 1, lives a quiet, blissful, content life with his wife and son. One day while walking home from a local bar, he is abducted and taken to an enigmatic warehouse, where, amidst the confusion of events, he loses consciousness. He wakes to praise from a handful of individuals he does not recognize yet who somehow know him. In fact, he comes to realize that there is a lot about this place, this life, he does not recognize, and much of what he does find familiar is distorted in some way, shape or form.
Jason 1 soon learns that another version of himself, the award-winning physicist otherwise known as Jason 2, developed a way to move between alternate realities, a method for “superposition.” Somehow, Jason 1 is now living Jason 2’s life, a life in which he is single and childless, a life in which he is addicted to his work. Jason 1 is determined to reclaim his lost world. He just needs to figure out how. What ensues is Jason 1’s struggle to fixate on reality, to grasp the mechanisms of travelling to other worlds, to prevail over numerous versions of himself and to survive a series of physical and mental hardships. The book’s subject matter is quite outside the realm of reality (at least for now), yet each one of Crouch’s words is incredibly convincing. When immersed in this book, superposition seems entirely possible.
It appears that Crouch’s sole aim is to explore the concept of “what if.” What if I pursued a different profession? What if I never broke up with my ex? What if…? Arguably, though, he accomplishes something greater than just conceptualizing this familiar deliberation. He gets readers to expand their perceptions of reality, to accept that there may be infinite truths, an often abstract, elusive notion. Crouch takes theoretical concepts regarding space and time and runs with them, developing both a quick-paced, action-packed story as well as a manageable, surface-level discussion of physics.
Simply put, this book is an engaging read, and not only because the plot is trippy. Crouch’s writing style is effortless, and the story’s elements are well organized. He tastefully illustrates intimate relationships, and his characters and their actions appear genuine. Consider Jason 1’s outlook on youth, which Crouch writes has “a weightlessness that permeates everything because no damning choices have been made, no paths committed to, and the road forking out ahead is pure, unlimited potential.” His characters’ perceptions are universal.
In addition, having grown up in the Chicago area myself, I can attest to the fact that the setting is portrayed accurately. But about the setting—it sometimes feels as though Crouch is trying too hard to convince readers of Jason 1’s familiarity with the city, as he sprinkles in the names of familiar buildings or recognizable streets too often and too directly. Another point of contention concerns the accounts of other worlds. Given that only a few are depicted, out of the supposed many Jason 1 experiences, they could have been fleshed out more fully. We are told of their traumatic nature and effect on Jason 1, but readers are not allowed to wholly commiserate given their hasty treatment. On the other hand, this may be a nonissue for active readers. In fact, it might not be that important at all if you take the book as casual entertainment, plain and simple. In this respect, Crouch is successful. The amusement he provides compensates for any of the book’s technical flaws.
Overall, it is indisputable that Crouch’s book allows readers to escape into another world. It does not facilitate, or even require, much contemplation. Some of the motifs are cheesy (the secret underground physics lab, for instance), but somehow, the effect works. “Dark Matter” solidifies the concept that everyone experiences their own versions of reality, since each person’s life view is limited to his or her own perceptions. Sure, this philosophical aspect is tangential, but it is a noteworthy property of Crouch’s creation nonetheless. Think about it. To readers, Jason 1 is the “real” Jason, the one to root for, since his is the perspective Crouch illustrates. But the other Jasons Crouch introduces are just real—readers are just not familiar with them.
“Dark Matter” is perfect for those who enjoy books that keep you at the edge of you seat. It is an ideal beach read—there are no dull moments, yet the book does not feel rushed. All details that are necessary for understanding the plot are included organically. Plus, the storyline will appeal to a wide audience, not only sci-fi buffs. If you want a good action book that subtly plays on your emotions, “Dark Matter” is for you. The multiverse trope is familiar, but Crouch does well to make it his own. It is not unreasonable to think that “Dark Matter” will make it to the big screen one day soon.
Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Publication date: July 26, 2016
Page count: 342
List price: $26.99
Nominations: 2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction
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