By Blake Crouch
Before we get to Dark Matter – a book I enjoyed immensely – I’d like to take a quick look at the books I’ve read recently that I think everyone should read. I just haven’t had the time to write about them. So, my two readers, here’s what I’ve been reading this past month:
Heroes of the Frontier – Dave Eggers: I love me some Dave Eggers. I know some people don’t like him. That’s fine. His first work, a sorta, kinda memoir entitled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was real dope. Loved it. Heroes of the Frontier is his latest offering and, unlike a lot of his other work, it is an out and out novel. It’s about a mom and her kids that ran away from their life in the American South and end up in Alaska. It’s good.
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga – Hunter S. Thompson: This is Thompson’s, the guy who pioneered “Gonzo” Journalism and wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, first book-length work. It also served as my introduction to the notorious and supremely talented writer. (I’d obviously heard of him, but reading Terry McDonell’s new book convinced me to read him.) Thompson embedded with the Angels for a year, observing and often engaging in their antics. It’s nuts and bewildering and excellent.
The Long Walk – Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman): Stephen King is probably my favorite storyteller. He’s endlessly readable and a much better writer than some – dummies – give him credit for. It was the first novel he ever wrote, but wasn’t published until 1985. It is a bit reminiscent of The Hunger Games if The Hunger Games was actually good (OK, The Hunger Games is fine). Gist: 100 boys enter a contest each year and walk as long as they can without stopping. If they fall below a 4-miles-an-hour pace bad things happen. Seems simple enough, but, told from the perspective of one of the contestants, King delves deep psychologically, bringing to light things you wouldn’t expect. The physical aspect will pound you into the ground. It’s a must-read.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald: What? I never had to read it for school, OK? It’s obviously really good. If you haven’t read it, you should. I don’t think I need to add anything else re this classic.
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway: Oh, Papa. I’ll admit it, I got stuck about a third of the way through A Farewell to Arms and never finished. But then I ripped through The Sun Also Rises, becoming a Hemingway devotee like most of us. A Moveable Feast was the last thing Hemingway wrote before he killed himself; in fact, it wasn’t totally finished. It’s a mostly autobiographical work focusing on the time Hemingway spent in Paris as a young, and very poor, writer. Stating the obvious, his prose is simple and exacting, and nearly impossible to stop reading. He spends quite a bit of time detailing his friendship with Scott Fitzgerald, which compelled me to read The Great Gatsby.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion: Some writers, when I read them for the first time, along with the sheer joy of finding their work, bring about in me an anger at having lived so long without reading them. Didion is the best example of this. My lord can she write. Regardless of what topic she is addressing, whatever you’re reading of hers will be the best thing you read that day without a doubt. This is her first collection of essays, and established her as one of the best American writers ever. Most of the pieces revolve around her experiences living in California. The title piece is a supremely powerful examination of the hippie/drug culture that took over in the 60s. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
So, Dark Matter. First impressions: sweet buttered biscuits, grandma. This is a straight up thrill ride with some twists and turns you see coming and others you certainly do not. It most definitely sci-fi – with a focus on quantum mechanics and the multi-verse, not aliens or the like – but works equally well as a family drama and love story.
Our protagonist, Jason Dessen, is a science professor that lives in a nice brownstone in Chicago with his wife and teenage son. One day, he wakes up in an unfamiliar part of town and everything has changed. No wife, no kid, different job. And he is confined to a room by an unknown organization filled with people who know him and think he is brilliant, but are unwilling to let him leave.
Dessen spends the rest of the book trying to figure out what happened while at the same time trying to get back to his family. The sci-fi and unending action serve as a vehicle for the reader to contemplate their life choices: their regrets and what-ifs. You know, “what if I would have chosen a different path earlier in my life” type stuff. It does this extremely well, pulling you in so you are completely invested in Dessen’s quest while simutaneously examining your own life.
I read it in two nights. I challenge you to try to hold out longer without finishing (that’s what she said).
Verdict: real good, must-read, not optional.