Dark Matter by Blake Crouch adds a new twist to the alternate timelines / alternate lives sub genre. Jason teaches physics at university having given up a promising research career to marry Daniela when she became pregnant with their son Charlie. Daniela traded an art career to be mother and teach private art classes.
Jason sometimes wonders what it would have been like to have walked away from Daniela to concentrate on his research career but decides over and over that he has the best life he could and his family happiness is far better than a sterile life alone.
One evening he gets the opportunity to be certain when a stranger abducts him, drugs him and tosses him into another world where he finds his family doesn’t exist and that his earlier, tentative forays turned into successful research. The rest of the novel is Jason’s search for a way back home to his Daniela and his Charlie.
Hearth and Heart
Have you ever longed to be home, even when you are physically at home? It’s part of being human, a powerful longing for home, our real home. Jason is truly cast adrift in Dark Matter. The others in his alter ego’s company spot him for a ringer and hunt him; he has no anchor in this new world; Daniela remembers him as a short term lover and Charlie doesn’t exist.
Dark Matter asks what we would give for home. Will we give a career? Success? Fame and money? Our family? As Jason stumbles from world to world, some incredibly hostile wastelands and other so very close to his, he discerns what is truly home: For Jason it is his family. His specific family, not other Danielas and Charlies that are close but not his.
Who Am I?
Jason’s trip through the quantum point cause him to split into multiples, all of whom are driven to home. I thought this part of the novel was weak. Why wouldn’t those multiples collapse into one or a few instead of splintering into 50 or 500? If their only differences were a few minutes spent in one alternate world vs. another, they why would some be so very different that they would be willing to kill?
Dark Matter didn’t spend much time on this question. The Jason point-of-view character knew who he was and knew himself well enough to realize the other Jasons would never rest until they too had their real family back.
Dark Matter is first and last a novel about people, about the longing for home and family that makes us individuals. It isn’t meant to be a physics text, which is good because the quantum box mechanism doesn’t make a lot of sense. (Physics class was long long ago but even had it been yesterday I don’t think the quantum box was meant to be more than a plot device.)
If the first quantum travelers had simply sat still, why wouldn’t they have returned to their home world?
Leighton in the alternate world is ruthless, but is he ruthless enough to kill his world’s Daniela or the biochemist who developed the serum to enable world hopping?
POV Jason has difficulty finding his true home yet his doppelganger Jason had no problem whatsoever sending POV Jason to doppelganger’s world. Since the traveler chooses the destination it seemed improbable that doppelganger could simply toss Jason into the box and have it work out.
I had a hard time believing the flood of Jasons into the real world. It didn’t make a ton of sense to me but was a needed plot point.
You’ll see these questions don’t particularly detract from the story of the search for happiness, hearth and home. They are small annoyances to an otherwise engaging book.
I’m giving Dark Matter 4 stars and not 5. It was interesting, easy to follow, a fast read and I didn’t have any problem sticking with it. It was good.