Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

David Halperin: Journal Of A UFO Investigator

At a certain time in a person’s life, imagination becomes psychosis: Children with charming flights of fancy can potentially turn into disturbed, reality-averse adolescents. Journal Of A UFO Investigator’s protagonist Danny Shapiro is right at that age. The eponymous journal, penned by Danny at age 16, starts with his abduction three years prior. He’s been obsessed with UFOs ever since, even as his family life falls apart and his childhood friendships disappear.


In such a situation, it’s no surprise that Danny retreats into a fantasy world, but author David Halperin is clever with his framing. The story has no anchor to reality; Danny takes his journal’s tale along a progressively less believable path, starting with a perfect set of friends whom nobody else meets, and culminating in a myth-like tale of birth, loss, and rebirth. Nothing that happens to Danny after he meets his new friends is in any way realistic, yet it’s written as if it’s entirely fact through most of the novel. The speculation is removed from speculative fiction, leaving behind only insanity.

Journal Of A UFO Investigator would be completely untenable if Danny Shapiro weren’t worth spending time with. He’s the ideal form of the unreliable narrator: He’s likeable and matter-of-fact, and he spins a good yarn. The other characters complement him well, especially his incomprehensible father, portrayed as a force of nature to his disappointing son. Danny also invests his new friends in the “Super Science Society” with far more personality than his more reality-based relationships; his new male friend has Groucho Marx-style eyebrows for maximum effect, while the attractive female member of the SSS almost immediately inducts Danny into the world of sexual pleasure.

The novel’s most important question is just how and why Danny is crazy. Halperin’s breezy tone keeps Journal from totally collapsing under the weight of its central mystery, but it still struggles to maintain momentum. That overarching issue gives the novel a certain drive—especially once the clues start appearing—but the question of what the reveal might be overshadows much of the mythology of the middle of the book. When Danny arrives in Jerusalem just prior to the Six-Day War of 1967, the heady mix of politics and history complicates the tale even further. Journal walks a patience-testing line between fictional memoir and bizarre happenings, but by staying readably fast-paced, it never fully succumbs to its ambiguity.