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Pym: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 1, 2011
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Chris Jaynes, professor of African American studies, has been denied tenure for his refusal to sit on the Diversity Committee at his university and for his intense interest in Edgar Allan Poe. Enraged, he nearly implodes before discovering a lost manuscript proving that Poe�s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, is a factual account. Jaynes devises a mission to find the lost, black-inhabited island near Antarctica described in Poe�s narrative, setting off with an all-black crew that includes his seafaring cousin; his obese friend Garth; his ex-fianc�e, Angela, and her husband, Nathaniel; and two flamboyant mechanics. They discover that something else described in Poe�s narrative is also real: giant, yeti-like, albino humanoids living in large colonies below the ice in Antarctica. This extension of Poe�s adventure is a romp that surprises on every page. Funny, insightful, racially important, Pym is a death-defying adventure and a probing examination of notions of race, even at the farthest ends of the earth. --Julie Hunt
"BLISTERINGLY FUNNY...a full-fledged and fiendishly inventive inversion of Poe's [Pym], a series of bizarre encounters I can't bring myself to spoil, each one more deliciously pointed than the last." – Laura Miller, Salon
"SCREAMINGLY FUNNY...there's no shortage of thought and scholarship and experience underpinning Pym, but Johnson doesn't let any of it bog him down. On the contrary, reading Pym is like opening A BIG CAN OF WHOOP-ASS and then marveling -- gleefully -- at all the mayhem that ensues." – Maggie Galehouse, Houston Chronicle
"RELENTLESSLY ENTERTAINING...It’s no easy task to balance social satire against life-threatening adventure, the allegory against the gory, but Johnson’s hand is steady and his ability to play against Poe’s text masterly. The book is polyphonous and incisive, an uproarious and hard-driving journey." – New York Times Book Review
"RIOTOUS...Jaynes never learns much about the white pathology and mindset, but Mr. Johnson knows plenty about the character types he skewers." – Wall Street Journal
“LOONY, disrespectful, and sharp, Johnson's Pym is a welcome riff on the surrealistic shudder-fest that is Poe's original…I'll stop there, but Johnson's inventiveness never does.“ – NPR’s “Fresh Air”
"Mat Johnson's new novel is nothing short of fantastic, in every sense. I fell in love with the voice, the tone and the world of Pym. This is an adventure novel, a work of historical and social commentary, a rumination on identity. The only problem I could find with this novel is that I didn't write it. It's a beautiful piece of work."
--Percival Everett, author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier
"Mat Johnson has come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and he's all out of bubble. gum. Pym is an adventure, a satire, and a bracing political debate all rolled into one brilliant novel. Edgar Allen Poe has inspired many authors but Mat Johnson has the inspired audacity to both honor and discredit the man, often in the same sentence. I imagine Poe choking on half the things Johnson writes in this novel, and tipping his tiny hat in admiration to the rest."
--Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine
“PYM reframes far more than Poe – it reframes everything American, from the whiteness of Ahab’s whale to Detroit bus drivers; from DNA testing to tenure review; from the Gatsbyesque dream of romantic love to the dream of Utopia; from our fear of life to our love of death. No one today writes inside the brilliant black mind better.”
--Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and Rebel Yell
“Social criticism rubs shoulders with cutting satire in this high-concept adventure… [PYM] is caustically hilarious as it offers a memorable take on America's ‘racial pathology’ and ‘the whole ugly story of our world.’”
--Publishers Weekly, starred review
You can trust the veracity of this account: Mat Johnson’s Pym is a spectacularly sly and nimble-footed send-up of this world, the next world, and all points in between. A satire with heart, as courageous as it is cunning.” --Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor
“An acutely humorous, very original story that will delight lovers of literature and fantasy alike.”
--Kirkus, starred review
“This extension of Poe’s adventure is a romp that surprises on every page. Funny, insightful...Pym is a death-defying adventure.” – Booklist
“Mat Johnson writes with all the probing intelligence of James Baldwin, the scalding satire of Dany Laferriere and the technique of a master craftsman, all of which make him one of the most exciting, important and gifted writers of his generation. Pym is a moving and accomplished novel.” -- Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and the Virgin of Flames.
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The main character, Chris Jaynes, is a professor of African-American Literature at a small college when he fails to be granted tenure. The reason for this failure seems to be two fold. Firstly, he would not join the college diversity committee because he felt it was a sham and without the college's only person of color, this sham would be blatant. Secondly, he refuses to teach Afrian-Merican Literature because he has become obsessed with the only novel ever written by Edgar Allen Poe. He believes this novel has something to do with the definition of "whiteness" that lead to racism in America, or at least the current definition of it.
While he is obsessed with Poe's novel, he also has great disdain for it. He seems to believe it is the worst novel ever written. for example: ""There is an afterword "Note" section to the novel, but it offers basically nothing, just more confusion than solution. For one, it tells us that Pym died, and died suddenly, having not completed the final three chapters of the book--but he somehow managed that earlier preface, supposedly written after the journey." And yet he insists on giving a lecture on the book every semester whether anyone attends or not.
There are some clever and insightful phrases in the book. I'll site just a couple. "I was so depressed at the end of his rant that I let him smoke in my living room." In speaking of the location of the college he states, "We were far enough north from the Point Pleasant nuclear reactor that if it was hit, we'd survive the ratiation. Even a dirty bomb in Manhattan would be okay; the wind blew south from here. People moved here for that, and for the natural beauty."
The ending is clever and ironic. I should have seen it coming but I did not.
At any rate, I highly recommend this novel. Everyone should read it.
It's hard to tell where satire begins and ends here, but it gives us points of view we don't hear from often enough. Rich in irony. A reader's read.