In his debut novel, Nine Shiny Objects, Brian Castleberry peels back the veneer of a rosy, postwar America, exposing the messy inner workings beneath. The novel is divided into nine hefty sections, each with a different protagonist whose life intersects in one way or another with a mysterious UFO cult. The book begins in 1947 with Oliver Danville, a small-time Chicagoan hustler, who, after witnessing a murder and reading about a strange UFO sighting, feels compelled to head west to investigate. Danville eventually establishes a group called “the Seekers,” and what follows is one chance encounter after another, as the story wends from coast to coast, spanning four decades, and all the while explores the limits of utopian dreams and the reactionary forces poised to strike them down. A whole world populates this richly woven novel: farmers, rock stars, city folks and suburbanites, a poet, a salesman, a conspiracy radio talk show host, and more. This is an American novel with heavy American themes, and at the same time, Castleberry reveals the humor in the absurd. In an email exchange, the author discussed with me some of these themes and how the book came to exist.
You could fill a bookshelf with fictional work set in a character’s imagination during a life-or-death struggle. From Shane Jones’s Daniel Fights a Hurricane to Ian Edington and D’Israeli’s Kingdom of the Wicked, storytellers have seized on the opportunity to blend phantasmagorical imagery with psychological acuity, creating works that can resonate on multiple levels. There are others I could mention, but to reveal some of them would be to spoil a narrative twist. With Kevin Bigley’s debut novel Comaville, there’s little doubt as to where the novel’s protagonist is — it’s right there in the title.
In our morning reading: interviews with Donald Quist and Leland Cheuk, revisiting the music of Mission of Burma, and more.
The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
by Jonathan Rose
I was not following him. A person in my condition wouldn’t be able to do that anyway, couldn’t stay with him, unless this guy up ahead—presumably a healthy grown man or at least a man in reasonable physical shape, making normal adult-sized strides—was held up, slowed down by something. Maybe he’d stop, say, for a coffee, or give pause to consider the aroma of a street vendor and buy a late-afternoon snack, or decide to linger in front of a shop window, or kneel to tie his shoe, or maybe he’d just be halted by an exceptionally long street light. It was possibly him up there ahead, a figure resembling someone from my past—that is, a person who, based on what he looked like from forty-fifty yards away and in front of me, bore a resemblance to someone I once sat next to for an hour a night, years ago and in a distant city.
Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Steven Seidenberg’s plain sight. Laura Moriarty has referred to the book as “a thrilling ‘excavation of the nous,’ drawing us into a realm where point of view, connotation, misdirection, and other rhetorical and prestidigitational devices are deployed in a tender but unyielding attack on the illusions we share.” Through a series of short fragments, Seidenberg illuminates haunting corners of the human psyche.
In the introduction to her short autobiographical novel Olivia, the newly rereleased lesbian classic published anonymously by the Bloomsbury Group in 1949, fifteen years after her friend André Gide’s polite dismissal of its merits, Dorothy Strachey writes:
This account of what happened to me during a year that I spent at school in France seems to me to fall into the shape of a story—a short, simple one, with two or three characters and very few episodes. It is informed with a single motive, tends to a single end, moves quickly and undeviatingly to a final catastrophe. Its truth has been filtered, transposed, and, maybe, superficially altered, as is inevitably the case with all autobiographies.
Strachey casts herself in her novel as the young and fiercely intelligent Olivia, the narrator of this blistering account of adolescent desire and first love who’s sent at the age of sixteen from her home in England to a finishing school just outside of Paris. Upon her arrival, Olivia becomes captivated by Mademoiselle Julie—who runs the school alongside another woman, Mademoiselle Cara—when she first recognizes her attraction during an evening gathering when Julie reads aloud from a Racine play. Olivia wonders later what part the actual text itself contributed to the sudden blooming of desire, or whether it was something else entirely: “If she hadn’t read just that play or if she hadn’t called me up by chance to sit so near her, in such immediate contact, would the inflammable stuff which I carried so unsuspectingly within me have remained perhaps outside the radius of the kindling spark and never caught fire at all?”
Today, we’re pleased to present “Horse Thievery,” an excerpt from Devin Jacobsen’s new novel Breath Like the Wind at Dawn. Jacobsen’s novel, which has drawn praise from the likes of Joshua Cohen and Kevin Wilson, tells the story of a haunted family in the aftermath of the Civil War struggling with the legacy of combat and their own violent tendencies.