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Pym: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 1, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First Edition edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812981588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812981582
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Ettner on March 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The first thing you'll probably want to know is whether you should read Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" before picking up Mat Johnson's "Pym." The answer is, that's not necessary. Johnson helpfully spends 15 pages in the second chapter of "Pym" recapping the plot of Poe's solitary novel and discussing its still-debated meaning. This background is all you need to appreciate this new, "inspired by Poe" piece of imaginative fiction.

The novel's narrator, Chris Jaynes, is a recently dismissed professor of African-American literature. He believes Poe's enigmatic novel, which is maddeningly obsessed with notions of black and white, is the talisman that can open up our understanding of race in America. He seeks to discover, through literary detective work, "the primal American subconscious, the foundation on which all our visible systems and structures were built." Sleuthing leads to grand adventure. Jaynes assembles an all black crew of six for a voyage to Antarctica to find "the great undiscovered African Diasporan homeland." This quest is set within a satirical framework that allows Johnson to launch sallies against a slew of social and political targets.

A caution: You're probably better off not reading reviews of "Pym" found in the mainstream press and magazines -- or avoiding, at least, the type of review that spends paragraph after paragraph exposing too much of the plot, revealing too many of the critic's favorite scenes, highlighting too many jokes and puns. Please. "Pym" is a novel whose twists and turns and revelations you yourself deserve to encounter (and judge) afresh, without prior interference. Set aside those reviews for reading once you've finished.

One reason I enjoyed "Pym" is a nostalgic one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thanks to his uncle, I was introduced to author Mat Johnson and his new novel, Pym. Pym is part mystery, part satire, part sci-fi, and all entertaining--plus with a message. In fact, this is probably one of the funniest and most creative books that has been published in decades.

English professor Chris Jaynes has just lost his college teaching position. Not only does he not want to teach Black Literature (which he was hired to teach) but he also refuses to join the school's Diversity Committee. As the only black faculty member, it's difficult to have a Diversity Committee without any diversity. Jaynes is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, and especially, Poe's only novel: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This novel is not Poe's best work, but Jaynes is haunted by Arthur Pym's sudden and mysterious demise in Antarctica, as well as the island that he discovered, Tsalal. The inhabitants of Tsalal are so black that even their teeth are black. Jaynes purchases a manuscript written by Dirk Peters (a fictional character in Poe's novel) and now Jaynes realizes that Poe's novel is probably nonfiction. With a settlement from the college, Jaynes recruits a crew of other African Americans (led by his cousin, ship captain Booker Jaynes) to retrace the steps of Arthur Pym and also, to harvest South Pole ice into drinking water (one of the last sources of pure water). What Jaynes discovers on Antarctica is not just shocking, but may also lead him to the same demise as Arthur Pym. Booker Jaynes describes it as a "snow honky problem" but it is much worse than that.

Although Pym is hysterically funny at times, Johnson makes us take a meaningful look at race. His satire and comedy hide a serious side to this story.
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Format: Hardcover
Chris Jaynes has just been fired from his position as the token black professor at a prestigious liberal arts college. A few pages later, he has a barroom encounter with the suspiciously-named man brought in to replace him, "Mosaic Johnson, Hop-Hop Theorist," who shakes a black power fist in the air (to the delight of the self-proclaimed white-liberal patrons) and exclaims "I'm down for the fight, know what I'm saying?" The tone of satire is set, but not yet the likability of the protagonist or the intellectual seriousness of the debate. Johnson turns the subject of race inside out, standing it on its head, looking at race with an outrageous accuracy whose aim falls on black and white alike.

Much of the debate concerns the nature of blackness itself, beginning with the protagonist's own racial identity. Jaynes, like the author himself, is a mulatto, "so visibly lacking in African heritage that I often appear to some uneducated eyes as a random, garden-variety white guy. But I'm not. My father was white, yes. But it doesn't work that way. My mother was a woman, but that doesn't make me a woman either." Jaynes refuses to be confined within the expectations placed upon his race, but insists on defining himself in reference to white society. He boycotts the college Diversity Committee as a meaningless sham. He declines to teach the canonical black texts, looking instead to authors like Poe and Melville to discover "the intellectual source of racial Whiteness," that "odd and illogical sickness" which he is convinced is the true source of the problem.

When the college lets him go, Jaynes is immersed in a study of Poe's only novel,
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