As a teenager I was obsessed with UFOs. For a year or two I read only books about cop circles, close encounters, or alien abductions. I became very well versed in UFO lore. So when I heard the title of Brian Castleberry’s debut novel I knew that it was a reference to the 1947 sighting of “nine shiny objects” by pilot Kenneth Arnold, the first widely reported UFO sighting and the incident from which the term “flying saucers” was coined.
I expected the book to be a nostalgic throw-back to the atomic age when the sky was filled with unknown miracles, but Nine Shiny Objects turned out to be a generations-spanning collection of character studies examining the troubled culture of modern America.
Told in nine chapters, each set five years after the previous and told from the point of view of a new character, Nine Shiny Objects is something of a puzzle, challenging you to work out how the individual stories fit together.
Failed actor and pool hall hustler, Oliver Danville reads a report of Kenneth Arnold’s flying saucer encounter and sees it as a portent of a coming age of enlightenment, inspiring him to form a utopian society called “The Followers” dedicated to ending American, post-war bigotry.
Each chapter is compelling in its own right, portraying often heartbreaking slice-of-life stories from the ’40s through the 1980s each affected by the The Followers and the violence that ended their idealistic experiment. But the most engaging aspect of Nine Shiny Objects is the underlying story told though clues sprinkled throughout each chapter.
In the end, Nine Shiny Objects wasn’t the UFO story I was expecting, it was something better, a though provoking look at real humanity that respected my ability to read between the lines.