You ever read a book that feels just a little too much like a treatment for a film script?
In Blake Crouch’s Recursion, the focus is almost entirely on its high-concept, easy to pitch plot. The characters are briefly sketched to the point where it’s easy to imagine almost any two actors playing the main roles in an adaptation. The writing is competent but unchallenging, making for a quick read without much in the way of metaphor.
Maybe that’s too critical. After all, Recursion is an entertaining and fairly original story. It finds a way into a time travel narrative that I haven’t encountered before, and I love reading time travel stories. Still, there is something a little off about Recursion, perhaps it’s lack of ambition. Reading the book it is fairly easy to see that with more work this could have been a really outstanding novel, if only the intricate plot were tied to filled-in characters the reader could invest in. Perhaps the film version will do a better job with that.
Fittingly, I have gotten ahead of myself and now have to jump back to somewhere near the beginning. Barry Sutton is a detective with the NYPD who stumbles onto the origin of a mysterious and frightening disease known as FMS, False Memory Syndrome. All over the city, people are waking up with memories of lives that aren’t the ones they’re actually living, and the resulting confusion is driving some to suicide. In a parallel story set about a decade previous, Helena Smith is a scientist struggling with a concept meant to help Alzheimer’s patients (including her mother) retain their memories despite their disease. When she’s approached by wealthy businessman Marcus Slade, it seems like a dream come true.
As Helena’s living dream progresses toward a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions, her and Barry’s lives and stories start to converge, leading to a denouement in which both of them will sacrifice nearly everything to save each other and the rest of the world as well. And had Crouch taken the time to imbue Helena and Barry with actual personalities, their complicated, tragic lives might have had even more resonance.
For fans of time travel fiction, Recursion offers a fun take on the idea, but most people will probably be fine waiting for the movie.