In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley came clean: They — not aliens, or whatever the going theory was at the time — had taken planks of wood and lengths of rope and made crop circles in the south of England, starting in the late 1970s. What began as a lark turned into a 13-year-long hoax.
Author Benjamin Myers uses the efforts of the real-life Bower and Chorley as the jumping-off point for his latest novel, "The Perfect Golden Circle," but for Redbone and Calvert, the main characters (practically the only characters), making crop circles is no joke: "There are few things either of them truly care about, but making crop circles is one of them. Sometimes it feels like the only thing."
It's 1989 and they've planned all winter for this, their "summer of glory." Redbone is the mastermind behind crop circle design; Calvert is the reconnaissance man. He makes forays into the countryside to find the perfect location, one that provides cover as the two of them tramp through the fields and a viewing spot from which to see their handiwork.
And there is a code for this thing they do, one agreed upon "when their long-term venture began out of necessity, folly, anxiety, impish disruption and much more besides": Anything written down, plans or designs, must be destroyed, the same location can never be used twice and the crops cannot be harmed. Most important, neither is to ever tell another soul about their endeavors. It is the mystery that propels them, the mythical nature of the crop circle — that and the designs and their increasing complexity.
Each chapter is given over to a project and ends with a newspaper article providing reaction, hammering home the notion that art doesn't exist in a vacuum. It needs to be seen, reviewed. With each effort, Redbone and Calvert's devotion to achieving the heights of artistry, embodied in "the perfect golden circle," grows. Despite the impossible standard, they carry on.
"The Perfect Golden Circle" has much to say about art, but it also has an allegorical feel. An elderly woman Calvert and Redbone meet one dark night in a field and then help search for her lost dog has overtones of Queen Elizabeth II. A drunk aristocrat, described as having a face "like that of a child's drawing — two eyes, a nose and a mouth drawn onto a pink balloon," mistakes Redbone as the estate's gamekeeper, emphasizing the incompetency of the nobility. And the unwashed masses are represented by the people who illegally dump garbage in fields or those who come to look at the crop circles and damage the crop.
So the novel is political, too, but its success rides on the backs of Redbone and Calvert. They are as mysterious — to themselves and to each other, at times — as the crop circles are to the public, but their oddball friendship and wide-ranging conversations slowly reveal who they are, much like the designs they flatten into fields. They can't be appreciated until seen in their entirety.
Maren Longbella is a Star Tribune copy editor.
The Perfect Golden Circle, or the Strange Rites of an English Summer
By: Benjamin Myers.
Publisher: Melville House, 272 pages, $27.99.