Questions for Discussion
- Danny encounters his first UFO at age thirteen. What’s the significance of his seeing it at this particular age?
- Danny’s experience on the night of December 20, 1962, is described twice in the book—first in chapter 1, then at the beginning of chapter 3. What do you think really happened on that night? What’s the meaning of the transformation Danny gives it?
- Through much of the book Danny envisions his father as something of an ogre, an embodiment of ferocious and unreasoning rage. Do you think this perception is fair? Does it change in the course of the book? How do you think the story would read if Danny’s father were telling it?
- Morris K. Jessup and Albert K. Bender, who figure prominently in the novel, were real people. You can learn about them, and about the legends the UFO tradition wove about their lives, by googling their names. How closely does the novel stick to the historical (or legendary) details about them? Where it departs, why do you think it does that?
- “Your problem,” Julian tells Danny in chapter 6, “is that you’ve got sex on the brain.” In what ways is Danny’s budding sexuality a problem for him? For his family? Would you say the book links sex to danger, or to growth? Or both?
- How does Danny feel about his Judaism? What are the ways he’s chosen to explore it? How do his memories of his dead grandfather, and his image of the great-grandfather whose name he carries, influence his feelings?
- 7. In chapter 23, Danny’s father wants to know what his interest in the Bible has to do with UFOs. What do you think the true answer to this question would have been? What echoes of the Bible do you find in the novel?
- Who is Rochelle? How do Danny’s feelings about her intersect with his feelings about his mother, about his friend Rosa Pagliano? Much of Part Six is devoted to her telling Danny the story of her adventures, which in some ways mirror his own. Is she telling him the truth? Or, in this book of unreliable narrators, is she the least reliable of all?
- One reviewer has called the Men in Black “a kind of sinister take on the biblical Three Magi.” Who are they? Why do they appear in the guises they do? How would you compare them with the cinematic figures introduced into the culture by the “Men In Black” movies?
- Does Danny truly love his mother? Does she love him? If there are ambivalences in their feelings about one another, how would you describe these?
- A scholar of Spanish literature has written a paper on Journal of a UFO Investigator, comparing Danny’s UFO books to the books of chivalry in Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Do you think this is a helpful comparison? What’s your take on the decision Danny makes at the end of the novel, about whether to bring these books to college with him? Do you think it’s a wise choice? And what do you think it says about the meaning UFOs have had for Danny all along?
- How would you describe this novel to a fellow reader? In your opinion, does it fall neatly into a particular genre (like science fiction) or does it transcend genres? Does it remind you of any other books that you have read? If so, how does it resemble them?
- Does the novel have a happy ending? Were you satisfied by the way it ends? If not, what kind of resolution would you have looked for?
Were these questions useful for you and for your book club? I’d love to hear what you thought about them. And if there’s any more you think I should add, I’d like to hear that too!