First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Blake Crouch, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.
Every choice one makes leaves the residue of that decision not taken and fuels a ‘what if?’ mentality. Such is the premise of Crouch’s latest novel that forces the reader into a world of mental gymnastics and infinite possibilities. Jason Dessen is living a fairly uneventful life; teaching physics at the local second-rate college, with a wife and teenage son at home. While out one night, he is attacked by a man and eventually loses consciousness. Upon opening his eyes, Dessen comes face to face with men in HazMat suits who question him about his memories. Unable to piece together what has happened, Dessen tries to return home, finding nothing as he left it. The more he explores, the deeper his realisation that he is no longer in Chicago or the life he knows. He exists, at least some form of Jason Dessen does, but his sense of reality is obliterated. No wife, no two-bit physics job, and no son. Instead, he is a genius who has concocted a means by which one can revisit past realms of reality, able to look at the outcome of choices not made, had they been the path taken. This form of reality, called superposition, posits that there are actually five dimensions to reality, all of which work in concert and create not a single universe, but infinite multiverses. These multiverses proceed based on the collection of choices made and different paths taken at the infinite crossroads in one’s life. As Dessen seeks to find the world from which he was taken, through an invention of his own making, he comes to realise that there are other Jason Dessens out there, all of whom are form of himself at different points in time, seeking to find the same central reality. With a wife and child oblivious that the ‘real’ Jason is not the one inhabiting their home, Dessen must not only return to his own reality, but convince them of what has gone on, with a plethora of other forms of himself trying to attain the same prize. A powerful and thought-provoking novel that pushes the limits of reality, thinking, and anything the reader may surmise. Not for those who are seeking an easy fluff piece to pass the time.
Crouch has an uncanny way of pulling the reader into the depths of his novels with little effort. While I was unsure of what to expect as I pushed through the first third of the novel, I soon became addicted to the idea and the journey on which the author was leading me. Jason Dessen is by no means a hero that captivates, nor are any of the others who inhabit these pages. However, the pure determination to sift through countless realities and reach the core issue kept me going. There are sections of the book that remain dense with the philosophical and physics-based discussions of dimensions and alternate realities, all of which caused my eyes to glaze over, but I soon realised that this was Crouch’s way to pull the storyline away from something corny and base it in a form of reality that might be beyond my everyday comprehension. The story progressed nicely, or at least as well as it could under the circumstances, leaving the reader to wonder up until the final page what might happen to Jason Dessen and all his incantations. It left me thinking, which can be a good thing, and wondering what could be and how life does unravel at various points. It may give a new perspective to any reader who takes the time to synthesise the premise as well as the science found therein, leaving a residue or wonder rather than dull completion when finishing the final sentence.
Kudos, Mr. Crouch for pushing the limits on my thought processes in this novel. Without getting too far off the beaten path, you open up new paths, new superhighways of possibility, buried beneath a layer of discarded options.