this is the most jonathan carrolly book not actually written by jonathan carroll, once you replace—or at least incorporate—his brand of metaphysics with pure physics. the writing isn’t as graceful and the dialogue doesn’t come near the packed potency of a great carroll-penned conversation, but the concept is deliciously similar, with time travel standing in for afterlife/reincarnation/some other ‘second chance’ opportunity of jc’s own imagining, and for the first chunk of it, i was digging how much it reminded me of carroll’s work, since he is one of my all-time favorite writers. the middle of the book was decidedly less carrolly, but that ending—hoo boy—brought it right back into my sweet spot.
it’s funny, because i’d been dreading the ending. i was talking about the book with a co-worker, after HE INTERRUPTED MY READING about thirty pages from the end, asking me how i was liking it ‘so far,’ and i told him i had no idea how he was going to manage to wrap it up in what little of the book was left and i was fearing some deus ex machina situation in the form of, i believe i phrased it, “some magical portal elixir or something.” but no, there was nothing of the sort, and the solution made more sense to me than a lot of the middle of the book did (which is not blake crouch’s fault—i am notoriously bad at wrapping my head around time travel and its attendant repercussions), and the three-quarters mark to the end-end was beautiful and poignant and so tenderly human, full of sacrifice and such brave and profound suffering it made my twisted little heart ache a bit.
what i liked about this book, and Dark Matter before it, is that even a dummy like me whose brain starts throwing sparks when forced to think about any kind of science that’s not observable—plants, animals, rocks? sure. wormholes? fuckity-bye!—can appreciate them, because they’re more than just their sciencey aspects—they’re about human relationships; about love and loss and regret and missed opportunities and trying to make better choices in the futurepast. they’re deeply empathetic, which is not always a priority in hard SF, so i appreciate it immensely in crouch’s novels.
this one is focused on a technology designed to help alzheimer’s patients hold onto their disintegrating memories—in essence, preserving their identities—by allowing them to relive events in their lives, but that kind of technology can be easily perverted toward less-altruistic applications, and the unanticipated side effects are catastrophic.
what follows is an ethical roller coaster with a frighteningly convincing slippery slope of scientific advancements developed with good intentions derailed into morally-questionable-but-maybe-still-okay-territory before flying off into oh noooooooooo everything is wrong and horrible and dear god WHY???, building to an almost excruciating tension where everything is so dire and the ethical quandaries so murky, there seems to be no way out short of a magical portal elixir, but crouch manages to pull off an elegant landing; one with real emotional resonance.
highly recommended even to readers who are time travel-averse, because even if the the middle makes your brain nope
there’ll be a bittersweet reward at the end of it all.