This third volume of Mackey's From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate series returns to the story of the Mystic Horn Society, a musical outfit that seem to court supernatural disaster at every turn. Like its predecessors, Bedouin Hornbook and Djbot Baghostus's Run, Atet A.D. is composed mostly of letters by composer/musician "N." addressed to a mysterious correspondent, "Angel of Dust," to whom N. recounts odd events, giving them an equally odd interpretive spin. The central turn in this volume occurs at a performance in Seattle in which one of the horn players, Penguin, suddenly acquires for an evening the ability to project cartoon-like thought balloons, text and all, out of his oboe. As with all of Mackey's prose fiction, his hermeneutic speculations are advanced as much by the power of puns as by syllogistic reasoning. For all the wordplay, Mackey manages to cover a lot of ground in this neo-novel, which is not so much about "characters" as it is about ideas and themes like gender equality, the survival of African customs and spiritual values in America, and the play of dreams within our waking realities. Most idiosyncratically, Mackey, with his nuanced knowledge of jazz, convinces the reader that music operates like a language, with all the power to convey, say, a specific feminist critique of male-centered jazz culture, or to acquire levels of symbolism that would make Dante wonder if he should have taken up sax. (Nov.)
Forecast:Mackey is an editor of the Library of America's anthology of 20th-century poetry, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a well-known figure in experimental writing circles. The Broken Bottle titles have already begun showing up on syllabi; if kept in stock and displayed together, expect solid browser-based sales.