It’s been some time since I’ve done a book review, and I’m not sure if I’ll make a habit of it or not. Book reviews, on the whole, are supposed to be boring for blog posts, the sign of a blogger who’s running out of material, or at least having trouble coming up with a post for that week (or whatever frequency the blogger blogs).
But, really, this is not exactly your normal book review, because my thoughts on this book are so… jumbled.
To preamble, I’ve been interested in weird phenomenon since I was very young. On some matters, I’ve made up my mind due to personal experiences (and they’re private, thank you very much. You want titillation, go watch The X-Files. Or Jerry Springer). On others… well, I’m still not sure.
One of those areas is UFOs.
Do they exist? Most certainly. Are they alien spacecraft piloted by Little Grey Men? I have no idea. And what about the black helicopters or Men In Black that are increasingly associated with UFOs? Again, no idea.
I do believe most UFO sightings are simply mistakes of one kind or another. I mean, like the joke goes, the surest sign that there’s intelligent life in the universe is that they’re not trying to contact us.
But seriously. I’ve had some experiences where, for a moment, I thought I saw something, only to realize it was a reflection, or a plane viewed at an odd angle, or something similar to that. You sorta have to train yourself not to see UFOs in order to see them, if you get my meaning. Otherwise, everything turns into a UFO—an Unidentified Flying Object—in its most basic definition: a flying object you can’t identify.
The catch here is that I’m not trained. There are, however, enough reports from many professionals who are trained in dispassionate observation to tell me something is going on, at least enough of a something to warrant a bit more scientific study, not just a two-year report from the Air Force as a token effort.
After all, how much do we trust the government?
All of this is by way of saying I still dip my toe into reading books about UFOs, and I recently finished one titled The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich.
Mr. Mezrich is the author of such books as The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal (basis for the movie The Social Network), and Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which I think are fairly self-explanatory titles. Needless to say, after subjects like this, taking on UFOs is a bit out of character, at least to me.
That’s what made me want to read The 37th Parallel.
In the main, it’s the story of one Chuck Zukowski, who has been obsessed with UFOs since his teens (sound familiar?). He’s an independent investigator, though he nominally belongs to MUFON—the Mutual UFO Network—but he doesn’t fully trust them. According to the book—and I think I’d read this before—there are many within the UFO community who believe MUFON to be a front for the CIA, or other entities, and that even though the mom-and-pop members are good people, those at the top are monitoring everyone in the organization for… something. What that something is, isn’t clear. Probably changes depending on who you’re talking to. And if they’re off their meds that week.
But I digress.
Mr. Zukowski’s story, on the whole, is interesting, and there are signs he’s onto something someone doesn’t want him to be onto: black SUVs (though no black helicopters, at least not after him personally), as well as getting fired from his reserve sheriff deputy’s job—for which he received no pay—for “contradicting the department” on a case involving livestock mutilation.
Oh, yeah. Forgot to mention that, didn’t I?
A lot of the book is concerned with livestock mutilation and Mr. Zukowski’s investigations of same. If you’re not familiar with it, livestock mutilation has been going on for years, and it’s every bit as mysterious as the UFOs with which it is sometimes associated. Basically, animals are found that have had organs surgically removed along with all the blood drained from the bodies. And any living animals who still happen to be nearby are totally freaked out, in a lot of these cases.
As with UFOs, there are a lot of theories surrounding livestock mutilation, none of which have been proven. Sometimes, there are what are termed surface anomalies linked to the mutilations—circular areas on the ground that look as if a craft of some kind landed there. Thing is, there are never any tracks or signs of any kind around the animals. It’s as if they were picked up, operated on, then dumped afterwards.
Mr. Zukowski reminds me of Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He’s obsessed by this stuff to the point of moving his family from California to Colorado in order to be closer to the scenes so he can investigate them sooner. In other words, get there while the bodies are still fresh.
All well and good, except he reaches a point where he’s freelancing his day job—he designs microchips—and his wife, who is a skeptic of all this, is working two jobs to meet their financial obligations. She thinks he’s crazy, while at the same time she believes in him. Just means she’s human.
All of this is well and good. Mr. Mezrich uses creative nonfiction to tell the story, which means that, while it’s all fact, it reads more like a novel. The author spent a year with Mr. Zukowski and his wife, which no doubt gave him the detail he needed to turn this from a potentially dry recitation of facts—such as they are—to something that’ll hold your interest.
Or, at least, it did mine.
Mr. Mezrich touches on several related subjects throughout the course of the book, starting with the Roswell crash of 1947 and all the controversy surrounding it. But it’s his somewhat hazy ending that has me in a jumble.
Remember that title, that one that included telling us the secret truth behind America’s UFO highway?
Spoiler alert: not so much.
Not to me, at any rate.
Maybe I missed something. I don’t know. But—again, spoiler alert—the whole aim of the subtitle isn’t really reached until literally the last few pages. And, despite the encounters with black SUVs and even a close encounter with one of the drivers who informed Mr. Zukowski that he wasn’t really a threat of any kind, I didn’t really see any secrets revealed—unless it’s that the mutilations, along with the locations of most major military bases and American Indian holy sites, are roughly centered along the 37th parallel.
I’ll admit this is a curious fact, and yet another aspect of all this that should be looked into. But the title made me feel as if I’d learn far more about this UFO highway than I really did. I mean, the freaking cover told me that, for crying out loud. And the copy on the back cover even implies that Mr. Mezrich himself felt for his safety as he researched this book—and yet I found nothing of the kind inside.
Granted, publishers go for hype. It’s how they get us to first pick up a book and then, hopefully, buy it. I get that. But this… well, I felt as though I’d been the subject of clickbait.
And if that’s what’s in store for us as the future of publishing unveils itself, you can be assured I’ll pick my books much more carefully. I’m just glad I checked this one out of the library.