“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

The dream of living in a harmonious world where people were free to live their lives as they pleased without a fear of violence is in some places still only a dream. Our latest read transports us back and forth over the course of four decades to examine how a single (fictional) group’s dream had a lasting impact.

Nine Shiny Objects by Brian Castleberry

After reading a news story about a pilot seeing nine mysterious lights, Oliver determines that the inexplicable lights were caused by UFOs who want to help humans fix the fractured and fragmented world they’re living in post-World War II. Oliver believes that the aliens will guide humanity so all people can live together in harmony no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion or socioeconomic class. This belief propels him to travel west where he meets a married couple who share this belief and from there a group known as the Seekers is born.

Brian Castleberry’s debut novel “Nine Shiny Objects” explores how this single UFO sighting impacted different members of society over the course of several generations highlighting the fractured and fragmented nature of society throughout the course of the book. Each chapter is told from a different perspective by someone whose life has been altered by the Seekers and a horrific riot that occurred when a group of small-minded folks tried to prevent the Seekers from living their utopian lives.

Castleberry crafts a superlatively original tale that incorporates UFOs, government conspiracies, counterculture and hope in this delicately layered novel. Each of the narrators has a distinct voice, with Castleberry changing up his writing structure for the different characters; a lonely housewife, a traveling salesman, a poet in Harlem, a lesbian waitress, an angry punk daughter and retired farmer all add bits and pieces to the story of the Seekers and the riot that squashed their utopia. What makes his book so compellingly timely is that our world is currently experiencing plenty of social upheaval of its own and it highlights how tragic it is that some people still cling to old prejudices.

From the book jacket...

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.

If you enjoy...

Readers who enjoyed the rich characters and their observations in “Nine Shiny Objects” might also be interested in Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” Egan’s novel follows an aging rockstar and his troubled employee.