The scope of the novel—from its vast conspiracies and social commentary to its decades-long timeline—is at times impressive to behold. Castleberry’s intricate narration (some sentences seem to run on for pages at a time) may even compel you to read some passages over again just to make sure you didn’t miss something. But it’s worth it to take your time and savor this one.
Each character’s chapter has its own voice, and swells with its own concerns, but they all crackle with tension and linger on loss ... The perspectives overlap, but the composite leaves some questions unanswered, some connections intriguingly unrevealed. Though set in the second half of the twentieth century, and thick with nostalgia for its diners, highways, and well-trimmed suburban lawns, Castleberry’s memorable tale probes fissures and anxieties that are undeniably current.
That we aren’t fully initiated into the Vision, that we are outsiders to the exclusive club, isn’t as dismaying as the novel’s lack of moral exigence and, well, vision. The sense of social progress, and the driving dream that unites these characters, remain general. The motivations of both the cynics and idealists are at times diffuse and difficult to understand, let alone believe ... These limitations are partly due to the creative structure of this novel, which could also be called a collection of linked short stories...The strongest of these chapters read as stand-alone pieces, often ending in a moving and artful crescendo. Discovering the nature of the characters’ associations and intersections across the chapters is one of the richest pleasures of the book ... Another pleasure: the detailed portraits of 20th-century American life. Each chapter is a neatly packed and well-researched time capsule, and in the early ones we find automats, hi-fi, Miltown pills, mayonnaise. Before we know it, though, we’ve been steered through the Korean War and into the counterculture, and then into punk, the close-clinging omniscient narration nimbly taking on the voices of each decade ... In this way the novel truly feels like a short-story cycle, its rhythms elliptical, its vantage points orbiting the shadowy subject at the heart of its universe. They circle swiftly, these nine shiny objects, never settling in our atmosphere for long, and their power stays resolutely mysterious.
Despite the premise's roots in the bumper crop of UFO sightings during the Cold War, readers won't find extraterrestrials here. Instead, Castleberry examines the ways in which humans can become aliens in their own lives and homes. Dark turns, desperate times and deliberately loose ends abound in this ambitious, provocative web of lives.
Few of the narrators share Oliver’s vision. Indeed, some have their own utopian or paranoid obsessions. It’s those obsessions, which often mirror the changing society around them, that give this novel its depth ... This section is weakened by the novel’s every-five-years timeline, which requires Alice to be far more aware of the Watergate cover-up than a typical American would have been in 1972 ... Skip, Alice, the other narrators, and a rich cast of supporting characters are nimbly cross-referenced, sometimes just by the subtle dropping of a name ... Not surprisingly, Nine Shiny Objects suffers from the flaws typical of the multi-narrator, novel-in-stories format: The narrative voices generally sound the same, there are too many characters to keep track of, and just when a reader is starting to care about one protagonist, it’s time to move on to the next ... Still, author Brian Castleberry has done a masterful job of weaving his complex pattern with a momentum that never flags. This is a novel that, like the eponymous flying saucers, sparkles invitingly.
Castleberry proves very adept at altering each chapter’s style and pacing to reflect the different personalities. Moreover, his evocation of each era is excitingly vibrant and authentic ... in a deliberately chosen and briefly frustrating tactic, Castleberry never trots out Danville center stage again. The reader only witnesses him from a distance, through intermediary figures. But once we realize this tactic, we can revel in the gospel-as-revealed-through-the-disciples approach ... While the overall narrative arc is fairly consistent and satisfying, with most threads tied up semi-neatly, Castleberry’s strength is in his linked-stories approach. Each chapter is very strong and rewarding considered as a self-contained unit. These characters pop off the page, with one composite character—America herself—emerging brilliantly from the gestalt ... Castleberry has managed to lay down an extraterrestrial template over the 'mundane' life of the country
It’s clear from Brian Castleberry’s debut novel, Nine Shiny Objects, that he is a formidable short-story writer. The novel, parceled into nine viewpoints, each spread five years apart, almost feels like a short-story collection itself. Unfortunately, Castleberry fails to adequately tie the narratives together in a way that satisfies the reader ... If every narrative clearly related to the incident — if each, say, were one person’s memories of that fateful night or an account of the consequences of their actions — this lack of center might not be a problem. The viewpoints, however, are more akin to snapshots of each person’s life, the connection to the attack or its effect on the person sometimes only becoming clear after several pages ... Paired with the expansive timeline, this leads to occasional confusion — how is this person, who wasn’t born when the attack occurred, affected by it? How was that person involved? It also makes it difficult, though not impossible, to feel connected to any character, as we know they will only be with us for a short time until we move on to the next narrative ... Despite its shortcomings, Nine Shiny Objects is beautifully written, with prose that occasionally verges on maudlin but more often stays on the right side of sentimental ... The author is certainly effective at capturing emotions, which makes it all the more frustrating that what should be the emotional anchor of the book is never properly examined. One feels that, had the reader been given more of a chance to witness and learn about the attack, we might be more invested in the narratives. As it is, we are privy only to jumbled memories of the night, lacking in depth and clarity ... Taken purely on its writing merits, Nine Shiny Objects is a strong first novel. No doubt Brian Castleberry’s talents will only continue to improve with time.
An impressive debut novel tells a wide-ranging story of mysterious connections among vividly rendered characters in 20th-century America ... Max and Oliver remain mysterious characters whose thoughts the reader has little access to, and the plot is built around mysteries as well—many chapters end in a cliffhanger without resolution. But Castleberry maintains deft control of the novel’s arc, making satisfying connections and bringing rich characters to life ... Memorable characters inhabit a surprising, engaging story of American idealism and its dark opposite.
... ambitious ... All these lives and eras are wonderfully drawn, even if the meaning behind these stories remains head-scratchingly obscure, and the author’s elliptical approach to plot will leave some readers feeling frustrated. This dazzles more than it illuminates.