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Monday, May 16, 2011
Journal of a UFO Investigator (audiobook) by David Halperin
If this were baseball, Halperin would be swinging for the fence, but coming up short.
Published by Blackstone Audio in 2011.
Read by Sean Runnette.
Duration: 10 hours, 36 minutes.
David Halperin's Journal of a UFO Investigator is a semi-autobiographical novel. It ties together UFOs, death, growing up, family dynamics and religion in general (and Judaism in particular) in the story of Daniel Shapiro, a schoolboy growing up in the 60s in far suburban Philadelphia. Halperin is a former professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a special focus on Judaism and what he calls "religious traditions of heavenly ascent." Already an established author of non-fictional academic works, this is Halperin's first novel.
Danny Shapiro's world is crashing down around him. His mother is slowly dying from heart disease. His father does not understand him. He is Jewish in the heavily Christian suburbs and, as he gets older, this is becoming much more of an issue. He cannot date the girl he wants to date because she is not Jewish and it would crush his already weak mother. His family is Jewish but does not attend services so Danny does not feel the comfort of ancient traditions. Danny is alienated, to say the least. His one and only outlet is his journal of his experiences with UFOs and UFO research.
Danny's journal is not necessarily written in chronological order and the reader will suffer quite a bit of early confusion in trying to figure out what stories are journal entries and what stories are taking place outside of the journal. We also find out that Danny's journal is not necessarily factual -- Danny is using it as an escape from the pain and confusion of his real life. He blends his fantasies and his reality together so well that they are hard for the reader to distinguish.
Halperin also blends together traditional UFO stories with religious imagery from several religious traditions, although mostly from Judaism. We have traditional UFO stories such as flying discs, the Men in Black and probings from aliens. Halperin blends them together, with references to so many other authors and religious traditions that I often felt like I was being left out unless I scribbled down some notes and went to do some research.
The audiobook was read by Sean Runnette. Runnette has a soothing, clear voice. However, there are many times when the voices are not differentiated enough and I had a tough time figuring out who was supposed to be speaking unless it specifically said who was saying each line.
The most obvious comparison that I can make with this book is the classic Kurt Vonnegut book, Slaughterhouse-Five. It shares many themes, the same sort of loose structure, especially the nonlinear style. But Vonnegut is the master of dark humor. His tension and dark mood are often punctuated by tension-releasing humor, which allows the tension to build anew. Halperin just hits the same note throughout: "We pick our demons and build our own worlds around them." We limit ourselves, it does not matter if it is by race, class, religion or with conspiracies and UFOs -- we all do it. It is a worthy point but the follow through comes up short.
I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.
This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Journal of a UFO Investigator.
Note: I was sent a free sample of this audiobook to review in exchange for an honest review.
Reviewed on May 7, 2011.