Late Arcade

Nathaniel Mackey. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2660-8
In the fifth installment of the From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate series, Mackey (Splay Anthem) revisits members of Molimo m’Atet, an invented experimental jazz ensemble based in Los Angeles. The novel expands through a series of letters to an absent figure only referred to as Angel of Dust. In letters written between September 1983 and June 1984, composer and instrumentalist N. details the band’s dreams, creative process, live performances, and romantic entanglements. Floating comic strip dialogue balloons begin to follow the group’s drummer, Drennette, and soon appear during shows, revealing subconscious thoughts and erotic memories. Having encountered these balloons before, N. and others in the ensemble (Lambert, Djamilaa, and Aunt Nancy) suspect the balloons have originated from Penguin, one of the horn players. Aunt Nancy suggests preempting the conceptual balloons with literal ones. Encouraged by Angel of Dust, the group attempts to incorporate rubber balloons, distributing inflatables during a performance and inviting audience members to contribute to the orchestration. But the word bubbles are even more unpredictable. Mackey’s work is digressive and flowing, “a run of pure devotion, a poem, a paean, an oath.” Sprinkled with illustrations, a press release, an improvisational prompt, and excerpts from an “antithetical opera,” the book eludes easy classification. Mackey imbues the prose with music, and every sentence drives the feverish rhythm. The narrative moves through notes on Bedouin mysticism, environmentalism, African American history, and jazz criticism. Intelligent and widely imaginative, this is a story about embracing the unexpected and the unconventional, and turning peculiar circumstances into art. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/2017
Release date: 02/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-8112-2661-5
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