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Nine Shiny Objects

Auteur(s): Brian Castleberry
Narrateur(s): Allyson Ryan
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"In this extraordinary novel, Castleberry brilliantly hopscotches from person to person, from era to era, while somehow making all this fancy footwork look effortless and essential." (Jenny Offill, author of Department of Speculation and Weather)

A luminous debut novel chronicling the eerily intersecting lives of a series of American dreamers whose unforeseen links reveal the divided heart of a haunted nation - and the battered grace that might lead to its salvation.

June 26, 1947. Headlines across America report the sighting of nine pulsating lights flying over the Cascade Mountains at speeds surpassing any aircraft. In Chicago, inspired by the news, Oliver Danville, a failed actor now reduced to a mediocre pool hustler, hitchhikes west in a fever-dream quest for a possible sign from above that might illuminate his true calling. A chance encounter with Saul Penrod, an Idaho farmer, and his family sets in motion the birth of “the Seekers” - a collective of outcasts, interlopers, and idealists devoted to creating a society where divisions of race, ethnicity, and sexuality are a thing of the past. When Claudette Donen, a waitress on the lam from her suffocating family, encounters the group, she is compulsively drawn to Oliver’s sister, Eileen, but before she is able to join the enigmatic community, it has vanished. 

Reunited across the country, the Seekers attempt to settle in the suburbs of Long Island. One night, their purpose suddenly revealed, a stranger emerges, and a horrific crime ensues. In the decades that follow, the perpetrators, survivors, and their children will be forced to face the consequences of what happened - a reckoning that will involve Charlie Ranagan, a traveling salesman; Max Felt, a dissolute late-1960s rock star; Alice Linwood, an increasingly paranoid radio host; Stanley West, a struggling African American poet; Marly Feldberg, a Greenwich Village painter; and Debbie Vasquez, a Connecticut teenager trapped by an avalanche of midnight legacies. Each will prove to be a piece of a puzzle that, when assembled, reveals a shocking truth about the clash between the optimism of those who seek inspiration from spacious skies and the venom of others who relish the underworld - not only via conspiratorial maneuverings, but the literal unearthing of the dead. The result is one of the most exciting, and unforgettable, debut novels in recent memory and the launch of a major career in American letters. 

©2020 Brian Castleberry (P)2020 HarperAudio

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  • Jim N
  • 2020-07-17

An Engaging Debut

Nine Shiny Objects is a mixed blessing of a novel. It's a well-written, impressive debut and Brian Castleberry has a genuine gift for bringing wildly different characters to life.

The novel begins with Oliver Danville's reaction to Kenneth Arnold's famous 1947 UFO sighting and proceeds through nine interconnected chapters, each spaced 5 years apart. Danville goes on to form a cult and each chapter deals with the fallout of that decision in one way or another. The cult is ultimately peripheral to the story, as are some recurring characters (like rock star Max Felt, who seems to become a sort of cult leader himself). The author uses it as a means to connect his characters as he portrays interesting slices of American life through the decades.

The novel is always engaging, sometimes even moving, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that what's happening "offstage" in the story only hinted at, is more interesting than what's happening "onstage". The novel never really resolves this tension so in the end, Nine Shiny Objects felt disjointed to me, a collection of interesting character studies that never quite came together. Nevertheless, it's a good read and Castleberry seems like an author to watch!

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