In our morning reading: thoughts on books by Yu Miri and Brian Castleberry, new writing by Melissa Febos, and more.
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.