Mind-Bending Gets Personal

“When I started thinking about my next book, I had this idea that memories are the most precious things we have,” Crouch said. “What would happen if we can return to them?” (Courtesy of Blake Crounch ’00)

Blake Crouch ’00, known for his page-turners that delve into the outer edges of science, reality and human nature, found his most recent story by looking into his own life.

“My grandfather stayed with us for about six weeks when I was 8. He had dementia and Alzheimer’s, which left a big impression on me — losing your memory and, by virtue of that, your identity. It always stuck with me,” Crouch said.

“A couple of years ago, when I started thinking about my next book, I had this idea that memories are the most precious things we have. What would happen if we can return to them? Perhaps even live in them again?”

The result is Crouch’s most personal book, Recursion, which debuted last year in the top 10 of The New York Times’ fiction rankings. It recently was released in paperback.

Such acclaim has greeted Crouch’s work for years, drawing reviewers’ comparisons to Stephen King and Michael Crichton. His stories have reached broader audiences through TV adaptations, with his Wayward Pines series airing on FOX and his crime thriller Good Behavior on TNT. More are on the way: Crouch has been working on a movie script for his 2016 novel Dark Matter, which explores quantum mechanics and multiple personal timelines crossing paths. He’s also executive producer for a Netflix movie and series based on Recursion.

Crouch started telling stories from an early age, entertaining his younger brother with bedtime stories influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. That inclination turned into a career: So far, he has published nearly 20 thrillers and about a dozen short-story collections and novellas, selling more than 1 million copies with translations in more than 20 languages.

Carolina Credit

Crouch said his publishing breakthrough came with a novel he wrote in Carolina’s creative writing program, where classes with Bland Simpson ’70, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and creative writing, and Professor Marianne Gingher were “some of my best UNC memories.” “I finished my first novel during an independent study … with Bland Simpson. It was called Desert Places. With that book, I got a literary agent and my first publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press.” Published in 2004, Desert Places throws its protagonist, a North Carolina author of suspense thrillers (sound familiar?) into a perilous ordeal when he receives a letter telling him a woman, covered in his blood, is buried on his lake house property and the murder weapon is somewhere in his house.

His aim with each of them is “coming up with that big idea and also having an emotional center of characters you care about.”

In Recursion, a detective investigates cases of false memory syndrome, pulling in a neuroscientist who has created a technology enabling people to preserve their memories. Together, they battle a force that attacks the fabric of people’s pasts.

“I wanted to write a character who was grounded in the reader’s mind,” Crouch said. “[The detective ] was a character that readers could feel like, ‘Oh, we’re just reading about a cop who’s investigating weird [stuff],’ because this book gets so out there in terms of messing with reality. I needed a very grounded character to help anchor the reader.”

Crouch said he’ll let others try their hand at the screenplay for this one since it was an incredibly complicated book to write.

“The nature of the narrative was very branching and forking, and it turns back on itself,” he said.

“A lot of people who are authors would kill to have their books adapted because, assuming it does very well or even somewhat well, all it does is introduce your work to potentially millions of people.”

— Kurt Anthony Krug

From Page to Screen:

The transition of Wayward Pines (FOX, 2015–16), based on the trilogy Pines, Wayward and The Last Town, to the TV screen showed how Crouch’s stories could grab Hollywood’s attention: Oscar nominee M. Night Shyamalan directed the pilot and was an executive producer. The cast included fellow Tar Heel Reed Diamond ’89 and several Oscar nominees. The Recursion Netflix project is being led by Golden Globe-winner Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) and Matt Reeves (The Batman).

Good Behavior (TNT, 2016–17) was based on three novellas, The Pain of Others, Sunset Key and Grab. Crouch’s creation of a thief and con artist was inspired by “the last job I ever had,” working with a criminal defense lawyer to interview witnesses. “It gave me a peek into the underbelly of where I live, and I started imagining characters and situations that might occur on the fringes of normal society.” It stars Michelle Dockery, an English actress best known for playing Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey.


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