“One morning, about a month ago, instead of my home in Middlebury, Vermont, I was suddenly in an apartment here in the city, with a stabbing pain in my head and a terrible nosebleed. At first, I had no idea where I was. Then I remembered . . . this life too. Here and now, I’m single, an investment banker, I live under my maiden name. But I have . . .”—she visibly braces herself against the emotion—“ memories of my other life in Vermont. I was a mother to a nine-year-old boy named Sam. I ran a landscaping business with my husband, Joe Behrman. I was Ann Behrman. We were as happy as anyone has a right to be.”
Blake Crouch’s near future fiction is a study of human reactions to the question; if I could go back in time and take different options that would change my life by my actions, but also the lives of others in uncontrolled ways, would I? This is no digital experience with a fast forward, if you go back then you have to actually live all of that time again. And finally what happens when you reach the present day and the two time lines coincide? And of course who would want to obtain the method of time travel and to what ends would they be prepared to go to, to obtain it?
As the story begins, Barry, a cop in homicide is first on the scene at a potential suicide and tries, unsuccessfully, to talk a jumper down from the Manhattan rooftop, a woman as illustrated in the opening quote, amongst a growing number that seem to be suffering from a new condition, False Memory Syndrome, where people suddenly seem to awake with particularly clear and emotionally deep memories of lives they have never lived. Détective Barry Sutton’s life, a wreck, has been going downhill since the death of his daughter, hit by a car, years earlier.:
The second thread of the story concerns a neuroscientist, Helena Smith, who has been working on an underfunded project to work on memory to specifically help dementia sufferers and who is contacted by a mysterious extremely rich benefactor that seems to know a great deal about her work:
Day 79 Living on Slade’s decommissioned oil rig is like getting paid to stay at a five-star resort that also happens to be your office. She wakes each morning on the superstructure’s top level, where all the crew quarters are located. Hers is a spacious corner apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows made of rain-repellant glass. They atomize water droplets so that even in the worst weather, her view of the endless sea remains unobstructed. Once a week, housekeepers clean her apartment and take out her laundry. A Michelin-starred chef prepares most meals, often using fresh-caught fish, and fruit and vegetables harvested from the greenhouse. Marcus insists that she exercise five days a week to keep her spirits up and her mind sharp. There’s a gym on the first level, which she uses when the weather is bad, and on the rare calm days of winter, she goes running on the track that circumnavigates the platform. She loves those runs the most, because it feels like she’s doing laps at the top of the world. Her research lab is 10,000 square feet—the entire third floor of the Fawkes Station superstructure—and she has made more progress in the last ten weeks than during her entire five-year stint at Stanford. Anything she needs, she gets. There are no bills to pay, no relationships to maintain. Nothing to do but single-mindedly pursue her research.
As the two threads come together and Helena and Barry meet, so begins a sort of “Groundhog day” as Helena with Barry’s help try to regain control of her work which, unbeknown to her, she had lost before the story began.
A “pleasant” story.
First Published in English as “Recursion” in 2019 by Macmillan.