Skip to main content




RECURSION is impossible to put down once you start reading it. Blake Crouch sinks the hook early on --- within the first paragraph or two --- by starting out as if the book might be a police procedural before he turns it into a philosophical and science-based work that makes readers reconsider everything they think they know about reality. That he does all of this within a little over 300 pages and explains the loftier nooks and crannies of quantum physics in an understandable manner makes the novel all the more miraculous.

The fuel that drives RECURSION at rocket speed is False Memory Syndrome, which has been acknowledged for well over a quarter century. It’s a condition in which a person’s life is affected to varying degrees by memories that are factually incorrect but that they nonetheless strongly believe. New York City cop Barry Sutton attempts to talk a woman down from a suicide attempt driven by memories of another different and arguably better life. Barry, who is troubled by the incident, does some research on her and what she described. It leads him to a home on Long Island, then to a private hotel in Manhattan. What occurs there changes his life, putting him on an intersecting course with Helena Smith, a neuroscientist specializing in memory research.

"[Crouch] will need to clear off his mantle to accommodate the trophies that surely will come his way for this stunning work, which is perfect in every way."

The narrative switches back and forth between Barry’s and Helena’s perspectives at different points in time. Helena, whose research has been sparked by her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, is attempting to find a way to preserve memories in order to restore them. She receives funding from an enigmatic, driven entrepreneur and achieves her goal, but with consequences so devastating that everything changes, and not just for herself and her mother. By the time Helena realizes what has happened, things have deteriorated to the point where only she can correct the course that she originally started…if, in fact, it can be fixed at all. Barry is there to help, and with the assistance of a theory from an unexpected source, there is a chance that things can be made right, if what is “right” can be determined. The answer, as readers will find out, isn’t always clear.

RECURSION will scare the heck out of you. Crouch’s exploration of reality here is on par with Philip K. Dick. I was put in the mind of Dick’s novel, UBIK, as well as Ursula K. Le Guin’s THE LATHE OF HEAVEN and “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. The end result, though, is all Crouch, who combines hard science, horror and mystery with a touch of a love story --- a couple of love stories, actually --- to create an unforgettable work on this and all other timelines.

There is no reason to delay or deny yourself the pleasure of reading this book immediately. As for Crouch, he will need to clear off his mantle to accommodate the trophies that surely will come his way for this stunning work, which is perfect in every way.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 14, 2019

by Blake Crouch