By Jenora Vaswani
Warning: Contains Spoilers
Wandering into a bookstore, it is always a pleasure to emerge with a book in your hand and your wallet a little lighter. Dark Matter was such a book and it is safe to say, it was an incredible read. Flawless, captivating and heart-wrenching from start to finish, it is a multi-universe science fiction novel told from the eyes of Jason Dessen, a cutting-edge research-physicist-turned-family-man.
The book begins with a simple, but powerful premise: that reality is both singular and absolute. Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, this premise begins to unravel with disastrous consequences. A figurative Pandora’s box is opened, allowing for travel between an infinite number of worlds all existing oblivious to each other. Crouch seizes a metaphorical road and turns it into a literal scenario. Ahead might lie quantum mechanics and Schrodinger’s cat, but Crouch’s writing has you in safe hands.
“The protagonist is thrown into a brand new world and fights to return home.” There is nothing special about this trope, regularly seen in genres ranging from adventure to fantasy to science fiction. Yet Blake Crouch imbues this worn cliché with newfound life: the reader is humbled before raw emotion and the resounding Platonic question of human identity.
Jason is confronted with multiple versions of himself: a prize-winning scientist, a shivering animalistic bloody mess, and a man who will do anything to survive, among others. Yet the realisation comes when Jason recognizes that they are mere composites of himself, his key qualities reflected to various degrees. The tiny details; thoughts, actions, and our past make us who we are today. The fragility of human identity as well as the inconstancy thereof is at the forefront of the novel.
The redefinition of ‘home’ is also a core component of the novel. The motif, ‘I want to go home’, drives the plot and the protagonist forward, yet the details we arbitrarily define ‘home’ as are uprooted one after another: an address, an apartment, a name. Instead, the small quirks, the familiar movements, the well-worn phrases of those you love grow in importance as the reader and protagonist journey through world after world.
Equally, Crouch considers the extent to which you can control your own life. On the one hand, the choices we make are defining features of who we are. Although the impulse to lie, steal or murder may be present, our actions determine our ability to shape our identity. On the other hand, the importance of the subconscious mind, which determines the worlds the characters are able to access, is also stressed. Amanda, a psychologist who joins Jason in his journey between worlds to escape the colleagues she betrayed, draws attention to the unconscious psyche. She points out the involuntary manifestation of Jason’s worst fears into a world of death and disease where he’d watched his wife die before him.
Dark Matter is brilliantly written, cover to cover, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys having their heart ripped out, stomped on, shredded, and returned to them, as they follow the painful, yet rewarding, epiphanies of a man who just wants to go home.
Dark Matter was released 26 July 2016.
Images: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre via Flickr, Penguin