An adolescent boy copes with his religious heritage and personal demons through a staggeringly lush fantasy life.
Myth, religion, conspiracy and whimsy converge, clash and ultimately bewilder in this debut novel by Professor Emeritus Halperin (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina). The narrative parallels the coming-of-age of a young Jewish man named Danny Shapiro, the openly unreliable narrator of this extended science fiction saga, tracking his journey from the end of 1963 to 1967. Launching into his story, Danny identifies himself as a student of all things alien: “I’ve read articles about automatic writing, ouija boards, communication through our souls from the beyond,” he declares. “They’re written by crackpots. I’m a scientific UFOlogist. If we’re to solve the mystery of the disks, as we surely will, if only we keep working at it, ignore the idiots who ridicule us, it will be through scientific research and analysis. Nothing else.” Danny has plenty of his own trials with which to cope. His mother is dying, slowly and horribly. His father torments the incessantly sensitive son. In his heart of hearts, Danny harbors an unrequited affection for his blossoming friend Rosa Pagliano, worsened by his rivalry with best friend Jeff Stollard. It all might have turned out as a nuanced and nostalgic rumination on the turmoil of the ’60s via a paranoid culture—see William Peter Blatty’s Crazy for a good comparison piece. Instead, Halperin throws in everything but the kitchen sink, unleashing an underground culture of conspiracy theorists, sexual discovery, the proverbial Men in Black and the Roswell crash, all in a heady, if baffling, tightrope between reality and existential revelation. By the time readers have been to the moon and back, flown to Jerusalem at Danny’s side and bumped into Danny’s human/alien hybrid love child, they’ll either be along for the ride or they won’t.
Whether it’s a nervous breakdown with flying saucers or a Burroughs-like odyssey through religious allegory, this novel never coalesces into a convincing story.