If You Could Live Your Life Over Again, Knowing What You Know Now, Would You Do It?


Recursion, a Novel

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“The concept of the present is just an illusion, made out of memories and constructed by our brain.”

How Did I Get So Far Away from Science Fiction?

Honestly, I’m not sure why I selected the novel Recursion by Blake Crouch as my Book of the Month book sometime last year. It is far out of the realm of the books I normally choose. Why would I read about time travel? Doing life over and trying to correct your mistakes? Things that aren't even remotely possible?

Typically, I chose mainstream literature; a mystery, a family drama, a historical fiction. I can’t remember the last time I read a science-fiction book although I loved them when I was younger. Some review of Recursion must have prompted my interest and lit the burner to try a sci-fi thriller from an author I’d never heard of before.

Why did I stop reading science fiction when I vividly remember loving a book about a woman who goes to Mars and writes letters back to the earth? (Forty years later, I can’t recall the title, but I remember the plot.) A book called Dragonsbane published in 1985, had me spellbound. My world was forever changed when a third-grade teacher read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic, The Hobbit, out loud to our class every day after recess.

So what made me stop choosing books in the science-fiction / fantasy genres?

I used to read about dragons and space travel and fantasy worlds. It makes me sad to think that as I became an “adult,” I shed the skins of “pretend,” and relegated myself only to more serious, more realistic topics.

My loss.

Never again will I neglect the power of “make-believe.”


Image by Prawny, via Pixabay.

How The Novel, Recursion, Piqued My Interest in a Forgotten Genre

The novel, Recursion, is a marvelous, masterful, suspenseful sci-fi book weaving concepts of memory, time, and death together with quantum physics resulting in time travel and “do-overs.”

Potent stuff.

The story is told through two distinct voices, narrating from different time periods. Barry Sutton is a New York City police detective in 2018 who investigates the suicide of a woman suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a condition that causes its victims to remember two lives existing over the same time period. Barry has been devastated by the death of his teenage daughter, Meghan, by a hit-and-run accident eleven years before.

Helena Smith is a brilliant scientist working on mapping memories so that people like her mother who suffer from Alzheimer’s may not be totally lost. Helena’s story starts in 2007, eleven years before Barry. Her scholarly articles about memory-mapping have been noticed by the billionaire, Marcus Slade, who gives her unlimited funding to develop her important, beneficial “memory-chair.” He whisks her away to an abandoned oil rig in the middle of the ocean that’s been lavishly renovated into a state-of-the-art laboratory and living facility hosting the top minds of the world.

Barry Sutton and Helena’s stories intersect as they try to save the world from the governments who’ve discovered that Helena’s invention doesn’t just map memories, but transports people back to the time the memories were made, enabling them to live their lives over.

Mind-Bending Concepts of Memory and Time in Recursion

Ever given any thought to the function of memory in your life? What you would be without your memories? Do your memories make you who you are?

What if your best memories were false ones? Or you remembered something that couldn’t be true?

What if we’re confined by our own mental limitations to think a certain way when we’re missing a completely different level of existence?

Blake Crouch interjects all of these ideas about the power of memory into the thought-provoking novel, Recursion.

“…memory…is everything. Physically speaking, a memory is nothing but a specific combination of neurons firing togetheher — a symphony of neural activity. But in actuality, it’s the filter between us and reality.”

The characters in the book even illustrate how there is no such thing as the present because everything we do has taken time to do and the “present” is our memories of what we’ve experienced:

“You think you’re tasting this wine, hearing the words I’m saying, in the present, but there’s no such thing. The neural impulses from your taste buds and your ears get transmitted to your brain w, which processes them and dumps them into working memory — so by the timeyou know you’re experiencing something, it’s already in the past. Already a memory.”

The present doesn’t exist because everything occurred slightly in the past. A mind-bending concept for sure.

“The concept of the present is just an illusion, made out of memories and constructed by our brain.”

Recursion is a fascinating story of how memory and time co-exist. It’s a science-fiction thriller with heart-pounding excitement, real emotion, and painful realizations that even if we had the chance to live our lives over again, we might not do any better. “Do-overs” never come out like expected because one changed action creates an unexpected change in a reaction.

Evocative Language

One of the strengths of Recursion is the evocative language and the power of description.

“The moon is high and full and shining down on the sea, whose surface is a gleaming, blue-black lacquer, as still as a frozen moment.”


“There’s a ragged shoreline a hundred yards away, and mist hovers over the blue-gray water, obscuring the spruce trees in the distance which stand along the shore like a line of haunted calligraphy.”

and (about Detective Barry Sutton):

“He is always looking back, living more in memories than the present, often altering them to make them prettier. To make them perfect. Nostalgia is as much an analgesic for him as alcohol.”

Great writing, in any genre, consists of the power to create mind-pictures with words.

Judging a Book By Its Cover


Book Cover: Crown / Penguin-Random House Publishing

Don’t laugh. In bookstores, I always gravitate toward “pretty” book covers. I like artsy ones with lots of colors. I’m distressed by the stark, simple graphic appearance of so many books, making the volumes seem bleak and uninviting to me. If I had been browsing, I probably would not have given this book a second glance, even with the bright yellow jacket.

I would have missed an awesome read filled with interesting concepts on the mind and memories; on the multi-dimensional aspect of time; of the power of relationships and the desire to do better next time around.

My tastes may run to “softer” covers, but I can’t think of any cover that would more accurately showcase the title word, Recursion, “the repeated application of a recursive procedure or definition.” Recursive: “characterized by recurrence or repetition.”

Who is Blake Crouch?

Blake Crouch is a well-known author that I’m just discovering. Currently, he’s adapting his novel, Dark Matter, into a screenplay for Sony Pictures. Crouch also is the author of Wayward Pines, which was transformed into a television series on FOX. He is also the author of Good Behavior, also adapted for a television series on TNT starring Michelle Dockery.

Crouch lives in Colorado and has written more than a dozen novels which have been translated into thirty languages.

If you’re interested in this novel, read this great review by NPR: ‘Recursion’ Is A Puzzle Box Of Time Travel, Memory And Death.

If you think you aren’t into science-fiction, try Recursion. You may find a whole new world of books just waiting to take you on a voyage of discovery.


Photo by Paulo Carrolo on Unsplash

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Melissa Gouty is a copywriter, author, teacher, and speaker. She is the founder of www.LiteratureLust.com, a website for readers, writers, and thinkers. A keen observer of human nature, Melissa writes "Heartfelt Stories" in addition to articles on history, marketing, culture, and travel. Her book, The Magic of Ordinary, is a heart-warming depiction of growing up in the 1960s with a father who made life magical.

Danville, IL

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