An appealingly brash if overworked experimental lark.


An avant-garde jazz sextet hones its craft, hits the road, and tries to make sense of some unusual onstage goings-on.

N., the narrator of the fifth in this series of jazz-themed novels by Mackey (Bass Cathedral, 2008, etc.), is writing letters to the “Angel of Dust” in 1983 and 1984 about his group, the Molimo m’Atet. It’s an experimental group inspired by (to pick a few of the many names dropped) Yusef Lateef, Sun Ra, and Milton Nascimento, relying heavily on intuition and improvisation. The novel’s language is similarly off-the-cuff, deploying abstracted wordplay that foregrounds sound and rhythm as much as sense. (“Rickety buildup grew possessed of growl and grumble, an aroused rattle and would-be rafter shake amassing senses of emergence or at least emergency….”) Lines like those give the book a poetic lift, but Mackey is relentless in peppering the pages with such prose, recalling the line (often attributed to Thelonious Monk) that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The skeletal plot turns involve N.’s flirtation with the group’s percussionist; an approving but intellectually-wanting concert review that prompts a group emergency meeting and press release; and, most surrealistically, the appearance of comic-book–style word balloons during performances, usually delivering semierotic messages. What to make of that? Art, of course: the band responds by giving the audience at a concert blow-up balloons to do with what they will, popping and rubbing in support of N.’s theories about air, sound, and the nature of music. The m’Atet’s performances in Detroit and their home base in Southern California uniformly receive wild applause, but this novel is a little harder to get behind: for all of its wild, free-wheeling spirit, overall it feels like an extended solo that keeps going after it’s run through all of its themes.

An appealingly brash if overworked experimental lark.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2660-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?