RECURSION by Blake Crouch (Crown Publishers, 2019): A Review by Tom Lyford
Sci-Fi, Thriller, Love Story
The novel opens with a New York cop being summoned to the scene of a potential jumper from the 41st floor of a downtown skyscraper. He arrives, runs through the lobby, and up the elevator he goes. He silences his phone, steps out of his shoes, and slips out onto the terrace. The woman sits fifteen feet away beside an eroding gargoyle, her back to Barry, her legs dangling over the edge. He inches closer, the wet flagstones soaking through his socks. If he can get close enough without detection, he’ll drag her off the edge before she knows what—
“I smell your cologne,” she says without looking back. He stops. She looks back at him, says, “Another step and I’m gone.” It’s difficult to tell in the ambient light, but she appears to be in the vicinity of forty. She wears a dark blazer and matching skirt.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“Barry Sutton. I’m a detective in the Central Robbery Division of NYPD.”
“They sent someone from the Robbery–?”
“I happened to be the closest. What’s your name?”
“Ann Voss Peters.”
“May I call you Ann?”
“Is there anyone I can call for you?” She shakes her head. “I’m going to step over here so you don’t have to keep straining your neck to look at me.” Barry moves away from her at an angle that also brings him to the parapet, eight feet down from where she’s sitting. He glances once over the edge, his insides contracting.
“All right, let’s hear it,” she says.
“Aren’t you here to talk me off? Give it your best shot.”
He’d decided what he would say riding up the elevator, recalling his suicide training. Now, squarely in the moment, he feels less confident. The only thing he’s sure of is that his feet are freezing. “I know everything feels hopeless to you in this moment, but this is just a moment, and moments pass.”
Ann stares straight down the side of the building, 400 feet to the street below, her palms against the stone. All she would have to do is push off. He suspects she’s walking herself through the motions, tiptoeing up to the thought of doing it. Amassing that final head of steam. He notices she’s shivering. “May I give you my jacket?” he asks.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t want to come any closer, Detective.”
“Why is that?”
“I have FMS.”
Barry resists the urge to run. Of course he’s heard of False Memory Syndrome, but he’s never known or met someone with the affliction. Never breathed the same air. He isn’t sure he should grab her now. Doesn’t even want to be this close.
No. Forget that. If she moves to jump, he’s got to try to save her, and if he contracts FMS in the process, so be it. That’s the risk you take becoming a cop.
Yes. FMS. The mysterious neurological affliction that’s driving its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. You fall asleep at night, or even during the day, and wake to suddenly discover that the entire life you’ve been living right up to the time you closed your eyes is somehow just a distant, fading memory now. Like a dream. A memory of an entire life that, incredibly, somehow has never happened. A “false memory”–a life you can remember every detail of, but it’s fading fast. And on top of that, damn it, you’re now in the middle of a totally different life with its own present and, crazily, a different past that you also remember every detail of. You’re still you. But perhaps you’re married, no longer to the spouse you remember in what is cruelly now the false memory. Married to someone else now. And yes, you miss the original husband or wife terribly. You miss the children you birthed but… now turn out to never have been born. You are left longing for a family that never existed. You’re in the middle of an entirely different life.
“One morning about a month ago,” Ann says, “instead of my home in Middlebury, Vermont, I was suddenly in an apartment here in the city, with a stabbing pain in my head and a terrible nosebleed. At first I had no idea where I was. Then I remembered… this life too. Here and now. I’m single, an investment banker, I live under my maiden name. But I have…” –she visibly braces herself against the emotion—“memories of my other life in Vermont. I was a mother to a nine-year-old boy named Sam. I ran a landscaping business with my husband, Joe Behrman. I was Ann Behrman. We were as happy as anyone has a right to be. I don’t just remember my wedding. I remember the fight over the design for the cake. The smallest details of our home. Our son. Every moment of his birth. His laugh. The birthmark on his left cheek. His first day of school and how he didn’t want me to leave him. But when I try to picture Sam now, he’s in black and white. There’s no color in his eyes. I tell myself they were blue. I only see black.”
OK. I’ve taken the above from only the first five pages of RECURSION. That leaves you 321 mind-twisting, genre-bending, emotional pages about time and theoretical physics and corporate greed and undying love and loss and grief to lose yourself in. I’ve tried several times to orally explain the plot of this book to friends, only to find myself overwhelmed and tongue-tied. Because it’s complicated. Because there’s really only one way to get it: one thrilling page after another, a page at a time. Fortunately, it IS a powerful page-turner. Karin Slaughter, best-selling author of PIECES OF HER, offers this blurb on the back of the dust jacket: “Blake Crouch has invented his own brand of page-turner—fearlessly genre-bending, consistently surprising, and determined to explode the boundaries of what a thriller can be.” Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN, adds this: “An action-packed, brilliantly unique ride that had me up late and shirking responsibilities until I had devoured the last page…A fantastic read.”
I cannot think of any better ways to describe the experience of reading RECURSION. I thoroughly enjoyed being glued to its pages. It’s different than anything I’ve ever read, but it works for me.