Dark Matter

January 16, 2017
Dark Matter Book Cover Dark Matter
Blake Crouch
Science Fiction
Crown
July 26th, 2016
Hardcover
342
Library

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

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.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

(via Goodreads)

 

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Dark Matter, but it certainly wasn’t this. By reading the blurb I was intrigued. I knew there would be mystery and thriller elements tied into my science fiction, and I was excited about that. But for me, Dark Matter has an extremely strong start which eventually tapered off and annoyed me. That said, this is a hugely contrary opinion to most of the bookish world at this point. Come at me.

Jason Dessen was living an imperfect but contented life. He gave up his potential as a physicist when he knocked up his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Daniella. Daniella also sacrificed much of her art at this time. But they are happy, in love, and have a wonderful 14-year-old son. They both could have been more. They both are sometimes envious of their friends. But that doesn’t make life poor in any sense of the word.

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.

Suddenly, Jason finds his life stolen from him. A man kidnaps him at gun point, steals his wallet, his clothing, his phone, and drugs him. The next thing he knows, Jason is waking up and a man he doesn’t know says, “Welcome home.”

Thus begins an incredible written rollercoaster. The sort where almost anything I say will be a spoiler, so don’t worry– all spoilers are hidden, but it’s the majority of what follows. O_o

…suspicion leads to bias, and bias doesn’t lead to truth.

Dark Matter is a complex novel. It grips the reader almost immediately by turning a safe and loving situation into something horrible. As Jason continues on his journey home there are deep philosophical questions being asked of him, and as a result, I found myself considering the same things. Who am I? Who was I? What can I become? What matters most in my life? How important are career and family? How should they be balanced? And most critically: What do I want? What do I need? And what should I have?

If you strip away all the trappings of personality and lifestyle, what are the core components that make me me?

I enjoyed how Crouch pushed me as a reader to consider my own life in a different way while still focusing on Jason and his plight. I appreciate the science:

This is what true dark matter looks like. Crazy!

quantum physics, string theory, even game theory and the mathematics of identity. While they were explained, they weren’t overdone. For many readers, I imagine this might be a flaw. I find that the semantics of how things are supposed to work to be dull, so I appreciated the lack of depth presented.

While I was hooked immediately and love what happened overall with this book, I really struggled with many aspects. First,   I figured out almost immediately this was an alternative universe-original-Jason-switched-with-alternative-Jason idea. As soon as the cell phone code was guessed, I knew the first big reveal. I feel like it was poorly masked, and I hope Crouch did that on purpose. While that took away some of the shock factor I don’t feel like this diminished Jason’s character; Crouch recognizes the psychological challenge of what Jason is going through. I, as an omniscient observer, saw this long before he did for many reasons. I wouldn’t have guessed a kidnapping by an alternative me for possibly just as long.

As long as I’m with you, I know exactly who I am.

That said, I didn’t like Jason by the end of the novel. He’s this brilliant physicist who was in the middle of unraveling how AU’s work (well, overly simplified, yes) and he never seemed to consider what the possible results of his work could be. Everything was strange to him and something he had never considered. Also, considering how strange everything was, he never stopped to marvel at the wonders available to him.  He became obsessive and pedantic about returning home and his love for Daniella. Yes, I get it. He’s worried and you’re showing his psychological breakdown. But it was done in such a way that I was no longer cheering for him around the 2/3s mark.

Also, I was annoyed by the end of the book by so many things. Jason’s character is multiplied hundreds of times. He has to out think himself, which is super cool, but pedantic. Everything becomes predictable at that point, and I found myself no longer caring. Just get to the end of this story already. He made it home, yes. Trying to solve how there was one Daniella and one Charlie and hundreds of Jasons… I just didn’t care. I was sorta hoping Jason would die and we wouldn’t know how it ended just SO IT WOULD END. If 100 pages had been cut out between when Amanda leaves and the end of the book, I would have been happier.

I can’t help thinking that 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. 

The only spoiler-free concern I can address is this: I was incredibly frustrated by how Crouch explores the capability for humanity to become the best version of themselves. This story reinforces that there are choices which will lead us to variations of happiness, but we all have to make the choice between professional success and our love/family lives. In particular, Crouch emphasizes that love and family are superior to career in order to get us to cheer Jason on. This is incredibly unsatisfying to me. Crouch builds this story on the idea that you cannot have both or happiness is unattainable. We, as human beings, can only do what is best for us in the moment and we shouldn’t have to reconsider our life choices and wonder “Did I make the right choice?” We should be happy with what we have.

And, honestly, I don’t think that comes across very well in this book.

Overall, I’m glad I read this– particularly as I will be discussing it in book club with my friends. There is plenty to discuss, that’s for sure! I will be recommending this to any of my friends who like science fiction or thrillers, too. There is much to be gleaned. But, honestly, it just wasn’t for me.


What Do You Think?

  • Have you read this book? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?
  • Are you interested in reading Dark Matter? Why or why not?
  • What do you think of standalone science fiction?

40 Comments

  • Jasmine January 16, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I had a hard time getting into this book. I read up until he was caught trying to convince his wife that they were together and had a kid together in the other life and then all the science come into play and my interest was lost. Jill @ Rant and Rave about Book loved this book and she rated 5 stars. I was planning to give it a try again this year but I don’t know when. And then I see your 2 stars rating here.. and see that you feel that the read is unsatisfying.. So, I guess I don’t really have to read the whole book to know that this parallel universe is really not all that good. I guess he would prefer to have a sucky career for his family than to have a good career without a family?

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      I appreciate you sharing this, Jasmine! I know you don’t like to give negative reviews, but this is why I think it’s important for more bloggers to share their honest feelings about hyped books. I felt like an island unto myself until you mentioned that you also struggled with the book! That’s one of the great things about books– there are so many of them covering so many different topics. Perhaps this theme or writing style or premise just isn’t for us?
      I feel strongly that if you don’t enjoy a book, just stop reading it. There are far too many great books waiting for you out there! 🙂

  • Rebecca January 16, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I’m sorry you didn’t like this one more (I really enjoyed it) but I loved your critique. You brought up points that I failed to take into consideration and I liked hearing your take on it. Great review!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
    Follow me on Bloglovin’

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Thanks, Rebecca! I know I’m in the minority in my opinions here, honestly. But it just didn’t work for me. I am really looking forward to discussing this with others and seeing where they found joy and I missed it. What did you enjoy about this book, Rebecca?

      • Rebecca January 16, 2017 at 7:45 pm

        Oh, let’s see (I read it a few months back) – I liked the dizzying aspect. One complication led to another and another and another. The surreal feel of what could be an actuality – the multiple dimensions breaking off at every step, every choice – blew my mind a bit. And for me, that was the enjoyment I wanted.

  • LizScanlon January 16, 2017 at 10:05 am

    How refreshing to see an ‘unpopular’ rating for the book… It’s great to see many sides of the book from many reviewers. While I have seen a lot of very very positive ratings and reviews for this book I still wasn’t jumping for it… reading your review… it just makes me a bit more intrigued to find out how I would find it… then again… I’m not going to drop everything and go for it.. I may regret it, as I may come to love the book.. but then again… maybe some day 🙂 Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts, spoilers and all.. it was very interesting!

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      This is definitely a polarizing book! I can understand why some people might be interested and even love this book. My favorite books revolve around character development and the relationship building. And execution on all those things felt off for me.
      I would be very interested in learning your perspective, Liis! I think we see eye to eye on a lot of aspects of literature, but we are attracted to opposing types of literature. I wonder if your thoughts would parallel mine or be more in the 4-5 star camp.

  • YAandWine January 16, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I haven’t read it, but I thought your review was really well thought out and detailed. Plus the word blur thing you did there, that was magical and awesome!

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks!!
      My spoiler plug-in is one of the things I love most about being a WordPress.org instead of .com user. Frequently, I get stuck with some weird things (such as I haven’t been able to comment on posts all weekend), but there are some great perks.
      Were you able to figure out how to see the text? I have been told it’s not intuitive sometimes, and I wonder if I should provide a disclaimer on how to use it…

  • ChicNerdReads January 16, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    I have this book and I will be reading it soon. I will take into consideration what you wrote in your review. (I only read the spoiler free parts). Thanks for this amazing well thought out review though <3

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Oooh, I can’t wait to see what you think about it. I know I’m in the minority with my opinions, but I haven’t seen reviews from many of my blogger friends. I want to dismantle this a bit with someone. Good thing I read this for a book club!

      • ChicNerdReads January 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm

        Oh that’s good that you read it for a book club! I was actually going to read this book with high hopes but I really trust your reviews so I’ll go in neutral instead just so I don’t get my hopes ruined lol. Because I’ve only seen high rated reviews.

        • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 5:09 pm

          There’s nothing worse than going into a book and getting hyped only to be let down. I adored the first third and was on the edge of my seat with anticipation. It is a really thrilling book! It just didn’t quite connect for me. I hope that you read it and present an honest review. It’s all about not being afraid to have opposing opinions. 🙂

          • ChicNerdReads January 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm

            I live for those type of reviews. Let’s see how it all turns out =)

  • AvalinahsBooks January 16, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    You read THIS! Everyone’s been raving about it, I’m also do curious. Surprised to see s different opinion too! But that’s not a bad thing. I’m also wondering if I’d like it. But I’m pretty sure I should read it even though I suspect I might not. It’s just that kind of topic where you just have to know.

    And another important question: THOSE SPOILERS, HOW U DO DIS??? This is amazing sorcery and I want to be able to do those spoilers as well! Do you use a plugin or..? Pleaaaaase spill!

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks! I would love to hear what you think about this book. When I walked away unsatisfied I immediately knew I’d be super curious about everyone else’s thoughts.

      Hahaha– the spoilers are one of my favorite things about having a WordPress.org blog, instead of .com! Yay for self-hosting! It’s a super tiny plugin called Spoiler alert JS. It was written and left alone, so it’s also old. Sometimes I get anxious that all my spoilers will vanish one day with a WP update, but so far so good. There might be other spoiler plugins, too!

      • AvalinahsBooks January 17, 2017 at 3:03 am

        Thanks, I’m getting on that plugin like RIGHT AWAY 😀 I think my favorite part is Comment Luv. I don’t think you have it? You should check it out 🙂 I love people leaving their fresh blog links on my blog. Strangely, not a lot of people have it.
        As for more plugin news, I FINALLY HAVE THAT COMMENT NOTIFICATION PLUGIN. God. I had a broken one, I finally sorted it out. People will be notified about replies now xD sooooo happy.
        I’ll go try out that spoiler tag thing now! Thanks loooaaaaaads

  • Diana January 17, 2017 at 8:00 am

    How did you do the blur thing? That was awesome. This book has so much hype but I have been reluctant to pick it because I don’t think I will like it because of the sci-fi bit. It does sound interesting though. Great review!

    • Jackie B January 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      The blurred text is from a super tiny WordPress.org plugin called Spoiler alert JS. It’s one of my favorite things about having a self-hosted blog. That said, there are a lot of things I can’t get– like the ability to like comments.

  • Jasmine January 17, 2017 at 9:03 am

    I feel the same! hahaha… There are a lot of books I want to read, that’s why I can’t decide when I will give Dark Matter a try again.. I just wonder what is it that is so good about it. Without reading, I already know we can’t do two things at the same time. Last night I saw on Twitter Penguin UK is hiring. There’s a job in Accounting I believe if I applied, I may get hired. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to experience living in London and working there for a year? If there’s a parallel universe, I may like to do that. But of course, it’s just not possible to leave everything now where it’s permanent, and move there where it’s temporary, especially become a foreigner. But the thought is really exciting because I assume working for a publisher, one of the perks is extra FREE ARCs! hahaha.. and Penguin books are awesome! I noticed a lot of classics are noted on the front cover as Penguin classics, were they originally published by penguin? do you think/know? Do you also imagine having a parallel universe where you want to do something else?

    • Jackie B January 19, 2017 at 11:47 am

      The idea behind Dark Matter is that there is a version of you who applies for that job, a version who gets it and one who doesn’t, a version who accepts the job and one who doesn’t, and one who loves it and stays in London while another leaves after a year. Which is really cool if you think about it. I think the reason many people enjoy this has to do with the fast pacing and how this book makes you think. Because it really does.

      The origin story of Penguin Classics is really interesting, actually. The short version is post WWII a gentleman approached Penguin with his own translation of The Odyessy and that launched a series of translated classics. They became such a hit this just continued on and on. I personally think that’s great.

      I sometimes imagine parallel universes where I do other things. Where I didn’t say something stupid, or I didn’t stop teaching music, or I didn’t buy my house– but, only when I am feeling unsatisfied with where I am in life. It doesn’t happen often. But it’s a fun thought exercise!

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel January 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Nice that you pointed out all that you found problematic in the book. I read the book last year and really liked it though. I hope your next read is a better one,

    • Jackie B January 17, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      I definitely feel like I’m in the minority here! I remember reading your original post, and it definitely caught my eye. As promised from your review, I was certainly sucked into the pacing (for the first half of the book, at least) it was quite a page turner. Unfortunately, some other things felt flat. It happens.
      I’m on to American Gods now. VERY different book, but I’m enjoying it for sure. 🙂

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea January 17, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    You conflicting (in the sense of comparing it to all others I have read) review has made me want to read this so much more! I was dying to click those spoilers, but alas I was a good girl. Now I am even more curious to compare how this sets with me versus your review and others. Fantastic writing! I have a feeling this one may not resonate with me as well.

    • Jackie B January 20, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      I’m glad I intrigued you, Danielle! I am proud of you for not clicking the spoilers– that takes a great deal of strength. I have more than once ruined a book for myself due to my curiosity. I look forward to hearing what you think once you’ve read this book!

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea January 20, 2017 at 3:07 pm

        Your review made those spoilers very tempting.. ugh. I just enjoy how much honesty you have poured into this. Now I am antsy to compare.

  • theorangutanlibrarian January 18, 2017 at 8:37 am

    I don’t know much about this book but am intrigued by the premise- such a shame it tapered off for you!

    • Jackie B January 20, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      If you like science fiction, it might be just the right thing for you! I am excited for book club this weekend when I can see what my friends thought of this book, too. I imagine I might be the lone island with these opinions.

  • Laila@BigReadingLife January 18, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    I’m going to try this sometime in the next couple of months, so I only read the spoiler free parts. It’s good to hear different opinions on this one. I’ve heard it’s very cinematic and that the author has sold the movie rights already. I’m at the top of the library holds list, but I’ve been suspending it because I’m reading other stuff right now! But its time will come soon!

    • Jackie B January 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      I am not surprised movie rights have already been purchased. I think it will make a great film. I am interested to see which parts they keep and which parts they cut… I probably won’t see it, however. Things get a bit… violent sometimes. That just isn’t for me.
      I look forward to hearing your review!

  • Jasmine January 19, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Yes, it’s fun to think about parallel universe and what ifs.. haha.. That’s an interesting history about Penguin Classics. Thanks for sharing it with me 🙂 (Sorry to reply starting a new thread. I couldn’t find a reply button next to our comments. Also, I reply through the notification but it says error. Each time in order to comment, I have to visit the post to do so. Not sure if that’s because your blog is a separate website or what haha)

    • Jackie B January 20, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      Yeah. It’s one of the occasional problems with a self-hosted blog. Krysta also just pointed this out to me– I’ll have to dig through some code and see what is going on. Thanks for the heads up! I hope I can get that fixed ASAP.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 20, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Hahaha don’t worry Jackie, I got your back if anyone comes at you I haven’t read this one, but I will at some point. Hopefully it goes a little better than it did for you lol I couldn’t read the majority of the review, but I will once I read it to see if I have similar feelings.

    • Jackie B January 20, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      It’s good to know that you have my back. 😀
      I look forward to seeing what you think. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it more than I did, since I don’t particularly enjoy the thriller genre. But! Who knows.

  • Read Diverse Books January 23, 2017 at 1:07 am

    No way! I was not expecting 2-stars haha. Most reviews I’ve read for this book have been glowing 4-5 stars. I’m glad it was a good book for discussion, though.
    The idea that we have to choose between love/family and other aspects of life (such as career) to find happiness would also rub me the wrong way. But I love science fiction and the premise for this novel fascinated me from the very beginning so I may end up reading it one day.

    • Jackie B January 23, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      If you can ever get to it– I imagine your TBR is pretty much endless.

      Don’t get me wrong– I will definitely be recommending this book to many people! It was just a book I read, and I won’t read it again. I think this is a great introduction to science fiction to people who don’t typically read the genre. It has some killer pacing and some thoughtful ideas. It just… well, wasn’t for me. C’est la vie.

  • cw @ readthinkponder January 26, 2017 at 4:05 am

    I haven’t read this book myself, but am interested to. I saw that it was nominated in the GR awards (which, we all learned, isn’t a good indicator of a book’s quality), but the themes of this book seem very compelling to me.

    Also, I love sci-fi standalones — if done well. The problem I find with sci-fi series is that, because they aren’t standalones, the worldbuilding feels lacklustre because they have more *time*, I suppose, to develop it in future books.

    Great review though Jackie! I’m not too sure if I want to pick this up anymore, with so many fantastic books out there, but if I see this book, I shall think of your review and decide then. 😀

    • Jackie B January 26, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      I completely agree about standalone science fiction. If done well they are incredible. While this book is incredibly gripping, I felt my focus was waning by the end. Which is a shame. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who is new to science fiction– it has some great thriller aspects to it. I just didn’t connect to it personally. If you are already a sci-fi fan, I would skip it.

  • Grab the Lapels January 28, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I have to say, the quotes you included don’t strike me as the type of writing I would want to read for an entire book. They seem a bit dry and repetitive. Aw, better book next time!

    • Jackie B January 28, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      That’s a really good point — The writing style was a bit exhausting as well. So many things just didn’t sit quite well.

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