BOOK REVIEW: Recursion by Blake Crouch


I once went down the Reddit conspiracy theory rabbit hole and spent about four days immersed in discourse about The Mandela Effect, Area 51, and UFO sightings. The threads, written by a variety of armchair detectives and alien enthusiasts, read like riveting science fiction stories. I couldn’t pull myself away, in part because I love learning about strange new things and in part because the explanations people were offering for bizarre phenomena were actually kind of plausible. There’s something so tempting about believing in all of the unproven possibilities, whether they’re about time travel or alternate realities, because believing in something inevitably feels better than acknowledging we don’t know anything.

In his latest novel Recursion, celebrated author Blake Crouch poses one of the oldest science fiction questions of all time: if you could go back and change any moment in your life, which one would it be? The problem, as Crouch so perfectly lays out, is that changing one moment may actually change everything.

NYPD detective Barry Sutton receives a call to go the roof of a building where a woman is threatening to commit suicide. The woman claims to be suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a condition that drives people mad with memories of a life they’ve never lived. Unable to bear the loss of children and a relationship she never had, the woman jumps to her death, but not before saying things to Barry that lead him to believe FMS may not be what is seems. In a second timeline, set years before Barry meets the woman on the building, a brilliant neuroscientist named Helena Smith is frantically working to create a device that will allow her mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, to store her memories. Unbeknownst to Helena, the work has attracted the attention of an individual who wants to use her research for very different purposes. As Recursion unfolds, it becomes clear that Barry and Helena are set on a collision course that will change history, time, and humanity forever.

Recursion is fast-paced, action-packed and surprisingly human. While it’s driven by a science fiction plot, the story is grounded by love and friendship and the power of human desire. Fans of Jurassic Park and The Cobra Effect will rejoice in this novel and will relish the thought and research Crouch has put in to making it believable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Recursion. Despite not having much of a mind for extreme scientific description, I found it fun and accessible and fairly easy to follow. Short chapters and constant timeline changes kept me reading for hours on end, and I finished the entire novel within only a few days.

Recursion is masterfully plotted, with Crouch showing himself once again to be one of the most interesting modern writers. Recursion is bold, and under a less skilled hand it may not have worked at all. But with Crouch’s straightforward writing and intricate storylines, it becomes a compelling and highly original piece of speculative fiction. Even if science fiction isn’t your normal genre, there’s something in this novel for you.