I recently had a chance to read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch--a science fiction piece. I'll be honest; I expected the book to be good, but not this deeply engrossing. I suppose it's because, on a fundamental level, this book delves into a question that all of us, at some point or the other, have asked ourselves:
"What if I had done things differently?"
Because the essence of this book lies in one man wondering how things could've ended up differently for him, and going to great lengths to understand those different lives.
Fair warning, this "review" doesn't speak about the plot of the book--which is relentlessly fast-paced and full of unpredictable twists. Plus, neither do I want to spoil the book for anyone looking to read it in the near future, nor do I want to repeat what is mentioned on the back of the hardcover. For more details on the book you can peruse its Goodreads page. Instead, I will write about what, in my opinion, the author was trying to stress upon, with the characters and the narrative
This book tries to show us that we aren't necessarily just a collection of thoughts, experiences, behavioural ticks, likes and dislikes, and a few psychological variables. We are, at the end of the day, the sum total of our choices. Some choices are more crucial and life-changing than the others, but all adding up to what we become. And had any one of those crucial choices been altered in any way in the past, it would be hard for us to recognise that other version of ourselves, today. And, to tie another tidy little knot on top of all this, once we have made a choice and lived with it long enough, we get acclimatised to it to such an extent that we couldn't bear to live without it.
We sit and think, "What if I had taken that job instead of going back to school?"; "What if I had tried harder in that failed relationship/dead-end job?"; "Did I give up too soon?"; "Am I trying too hard?"; "Did I make the right choice?", But we fail to realise that if we did get a chance to revisit that choice and take a different path, our life would, most likely, lead us through an entirely different jungle--a landscape that, at this point, our imaginations can hardly conceieve.
But we can't stop ourselves from asking those questions. It's our nature. That's why you can find so much literature revolving around destiny and alternate-reality. Literature that I find mostly whimsical and not worth the effort to plough through. Because it just portraits an ideal situation without showing the consequences of the actions, without showing the aftermath, without making it relatable. Take a hero who has to embrace his destiny--choice is completely removed from that equation. Take a man who experiences an alternate reality--it's just a weirdly different world from his perspective that he experiences and either decides to move on or move in, so to speak. But that's it! There's not much more. Nothing to ponder on. Just sceneries that you can spectate, if, the author manages to write the book decently enough and make the characters compelling enough.
And that is where this book differs from most. It shows--in great detail--the consequences of the choices of one man and how that shapes him. It also shows something that, I feel, has not been explored enough in such stories: The fact that, over time, you can get used to any life, no matter how alien it may seem at first, once you've made your choice and, more importantly, once you've made peace with that choice.