Dark Matter by Blake Crouch [Review]

*I received a copy of Dark Matter from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Here goes.

Have you ever wondered what your life would have been like if you had made a different decision? Maybe you’re thinking of a time when you were at a real crossroads and the choices you made had a significant impact on how you’ve lived your life. But what about the small decisions, the daily and mundane options you’re given: what to eat for lunch, where to go shopping, what movie to watch. And what if instead of choosing one thing over another, you did both. What if every single time this happened, a version of you in a parallel world was created and they continued on their own path.

Welcome to the multiverse.

Novels featuring plots driven by the multiverse theory fascinate me, and are quickly becoming a thing I look for in new releases. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch tells the story of Jason Dessen, a husband, father and college professor who has happily given up a promising career in physics to have a fulfilling life with his family. It also follows Jason Dessen the physics superstar who has walked away from his pregnant girlfriend to focus on his career and a new obsession with the possibility of traveling between worlds in the multiverse.

Let’s get it right out there that I loved this book. The best science fiction stories (in my opinion at least) have a strong basis in science fact, and can take theories or ideas and draw a complete narrative from them. The multiverse theory is mind-boggling, and I can’t pretend to really know anything about quantum physics, but the beauty of successful novels like this is that you don’t have to. Enough is explained to the reader so that you can understand what’s going on in the plot, but you aren’t bogged down in the details. This isn’t to say that the book is light on fact or real science, but instead is a seamless blending of fact and fiction that only theoretical physicists will be able to untangle.

The novel read like a thriller, with plenty of action and suspense, but also very quickly established my sympathy for Jason. I’m only recently getting into thrillers, but I think what makes or breaks these stories for me has to be connection I feel (or don’t) to the predicament that the protagonist is in. It’s all well and good to have your lead running around to trendy and interesting places, but for me, the setting is much less important than the character development. In other genres, I might say the reverse is true, but thrillers can fall really flat for me if the how and why of it all is not presented throughout the story.

All of that being said, I raced through Dark Matter. Plot and pacing are not sacrificed, and I was much more interested in finding out what happened next than I have been for a long time. I still haven’t decided if I found the end satisfying or not, and I don’t want to include any spoilers, but I think Crouch had to work himself out of a corner and did what he could to make it both emotional and convincingly logical. More often than not, I find myself not really judging the choices that authors have made. I don’t think books should be longer or shorter, and I don’t spend a lot of energy trying to sort out how I would have done it differently. The choices an author makes are theirs alone, and I don’t get too riled by any of it. This does make it harder for me to really judge books and come up with a Goodreads rating, but I muddle through. (For the record, this was a 5-star book for me.)

I know this one has been making the rounds and is getting generally positive reviews already, and I couldn’t be happier for a book about physics. Readers are smart and want to be engaged, challenged, and presented with new ideas. I think for a lot of readers, science isn’t always a subject they gravitate towards (judging by the undergraduate degrees held by most librarians and avid readers I know, myself included…) so I love finding stories that are able to make hard-to-understand concepts fun and genuinely enjoyable.