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Bass Cathedral

Nathaniel Mackey, Author, Wilson Harris, Preface by
Nathaniel Mackey, Author, Wilson Harris, Preface by . New Directions $14.95 (183p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1720-0
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In the fourth installment of this National Book Award–winning poet and novelist’s ongoing epistolary work of fiction, Mackey (Splay Anthem ) is never shy of the unwieldy or the recondite, plunging readers into the heady thoughts of N., narrating letter writer and member of the fictional early ’80s jazz ensemble Molino m’Atet, who are releasing their first album, Orphic Bend . Like the plot points of Mackey’s previous novels (which feature first concerts, new drummers and intra-band love triangles), the album release here serves mainly to trigger Mackey’s singularly styled vamps on jazz and its mystical connotations. Mackey works in a kind of otherworldly reality, where recognizable situations quickly give way to the fanciful: the band, at one point, finds that cartoon speech balloons appear from the grooves of their album (as they appeared from the band’s instruments in earlier installments), causing confusion among the band members and their fans. “I dreamt you were gone... ” begin the balloons; from here, Mackey takes off into the wilds of abstraction and imagination. Less stridently avant-garde and more readable than its predecessors, this poetic novel is nonetheless dense and challenging. It may not be for everyone, but fans of Mackey’s poetry, and of jazz, may find themselves right at home. (Jan.)

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