Mackey’s novel opens in Los Angeles. A musician known only as N. writes the first of a series of letters to the enigmatic Angel of Dust. N.’s jazz sextet, Molimo m’Atet, has just rehearsed a new tune: the horn players read from The Egyptian Book of the Dead with lips clothespinned shut, while the rest of the band struts and saunters in a cosmic hymn to the sun god Ra. N. ends this breathless session by sending the Angel of Dust a cassette tape of their rehearsal.
Over the next nine months, N.’s epistolary narration follows the musical goings-on of the ensemble. N. suffers from what he calls “cowrie shell attacks”―oil spills, N.’s memory of his mother’s melancholy musical Sundays―which all becomes the source of fresh artistic invention.