Book Review

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Publisher: Crown | Genre: Science fiction, Mystery thriller

It’s perhaps a bit heavy foreshadowing, but the effects of our choices is a major theme in Dark Matter. It descends, at times, into a slightly predicable thriller, but overall it had enough surprises and twists to keep my eyes glued to the page.

Title: Dark Matter

Author: Blake Crouch

Publisher: Crown

Genre: Science fiction, Mystery thriller

First Publication: 2016

Language: English

Major Characters: Jason Dessen, Daniela Vargas Dessen, Amanda Lucas, Charlie Dessen

Setting Place: Chicago, Illinois (United States)


Book Summary: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

‘Are you happy in your life?’

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakes to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before the man he’s never met smiles down at him and says, ‘Welcome back.’

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.

Book Review - Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Life consists of simple truths that we accept without question. Living on a beautiful planet, getting married, making plans for the future, and being told that we are unique is what makes us who we are. The complexity of universe and possibility of alternative realities is rarely contemplated in this world. Regardless, should we be held accountable for our ignorance on these topics that affect us in the future? Perhaps, the human tendency is to avoid agonizing over things that cannot be controlled. The multiverse is a strange and exciting concept and Dark Matter does manage to use the concept of the multiverse to tell a unique and engaging story.

Dark Matter portraits an ordinary, middle aged professor, Jason Dessen, having a peaceful evening with his wife and his teenage son. Jason Dessen is in the kitchen with his wife, Daniela, and their teenage son, Charlie, at their Chicago home. He and Daniela exchange news about old acquaintances who have lately achieved notable success, and they reflect regretfully on how their lives could have been different if they had pursued their own professions, in physics and painting, respectively, instead of settling down and starting a family. Jason, on the other hand, is aware that he is content with his life and that he loves his wife.

“We’re more than the sum total of our choices, that all the paths we might have taken factor somehow into the math of our identity.”

After his decision to meet one of his accomplished friends, who had won a prize on a scientific achievement, his life changes dramatically. Jason hears footsteps following him as he walks back home later that night, and the next thing he knows, he’s been kidnapped by a masked, armed guy who compels him to drive to a secluded parking lot. While he expects to be murdered, he is taken aback when his kidnapper begins questioning him about his life and family, including, “Are you happy in your life?”

Jason is tied to a gurney and surrounded by individuals dressed in hazmat suits as he wakes up. He’s been gone for a time, however he doesn’t know where he is or where he’s been at first. But he gradually finds that his life as he knows it no longer exists—his wife is not his lovely wife, his work is different—nothing is as he recalls. He is now a well-known scientist who has achieved the seemingly impossible.

“It’s terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, branches off into a new world.”

The events that unfold here will make your mind race at breakneck speed in a completely different orbit than what you are accustomed to. Taking you through the zany, quirky path of Jason Dessen, Blake Crouch brings you a story with many “what ifs?”. He shows you how real can become unreal through the eyes of Jason Dessen. As he embarks on his mind-altering adventure, he faces madness, danger, and tough decisions. But purely, he receives and realizes that “the Knowledge” of our existence in the universe is both a burden and a blessing that can either improve or destroy our heathen, in so many ways, civilization.

Jason’s adventures have brought him to a variety of alternate realities, ranging from the hazardous and lethal to the delightful and futuristic. The love between Jason and his wife and son is depicted in a affecting and compelling way; it is both touching and believable. Blake Crouch does not burden the readers with too much scientific details & keeps the plot tight.

“No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting it. No time to flinch or brace.”

Dark Matter is an absorbing and suspenseful novel, with a breathlessly fast pace that rarely lets up. It’s even, at times, a little mind-blowing, as physics concepts like quantum superposition and the quandary of Schrödinger’s cat are made concrete and tied into Jason’s experiences. In the end, however, the science ― which is plausible enough for the casual reader but may annoy readers more well-versed in quantum physics ― becomes secondary to Jason Dessen’s series of perils and his search, first for understanding and then for his home and family. At every turn he is faced with a new obstacle.

It’s perhaps a bit heavy foreshadowing, but the effects of our choices is a major theme in Dark Matter. It descends, at times, into a slightly predicable thriller, but overall it had enough surprises and twists to keep my eyes glued to the page. And in between the tension and the terror, Blake Crouch explores the impact of our personal decisions, the roads taken and not taken, the myriad decision points in our lives that can affect not only our own lives but the lives of those around us, and even our world.

“We’re all just wandering through the tundra of our existence, assigning value to worthlessness, when all that we love and hate, all we believe in and fight for and kill for and die for is as meaningless as images projected onto Plexiglass.”

Crouch has an uncanny way of pulling the reader into the depths of his novels with little effort. While I was unsure of what to expect as I pushed through the first third of the novel, I soon became addicted to the idea and the journey on which the author was leading me. Jason Dessen is by no means a hero that captivates, nor are any of the others who inhabit these pages. However, the pure determination to sift through countless realities and reach the core issue kept me going.

The one downside to this quick-moving style of writing is that at times I felt like the characters around Jason didn’t get the opportunity to develop quite as well as he did. His immediate family (a wife and son) exist as constructs by which the differences in the multiverses are highlighted, and don’t see much development as a result. Because the action required the characters to move so quickly, there just wasn’t enough time to glean the information I was really looking for.

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It’s perhaps a bit heavy foreshadowing, but the effects of our choices is a major theme in Dark Matter. It descends, at times, into a slightly predicable thriller, but overall it had enough surprises and twists to keep my eyes glued to the page.Dark Matter by Blake Crouch