Hats off, please, to Mat Johnson, author of this wonderful, black-humored novelpart social satire, part meditation on race in America, part metafiction and, just as important, a rollicking fantasy adventure. Pym is outrageously entertaining…exuberantly comic…Reminiscent of Philip Roth in its seemingly effortless blend of the serious, comic and fantastic, Johnson's Pym really shouldn't be missed.
The Washington Post
Social criticism rubs shoulders with cutting satire in this high-concept adventure from novelist (Hunting in Harlem) and graphic novelist (Incognegro) Johnson. Shortly after Chris Jaynes, a struggling "blackademic" at a small Hudson Valley college who has a particular interest in Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, is passed over for tenure, he lucks into a copy of an unpublished 19th-century manuscript that suggests Poe's novel, which was partially set in Antarctica, was drawn closely from truth. From here, the story takes a forceful turn into the weird and funny: Chris's cousin has a scheme to use Antarctic ice for a bottled water empire. A crew is assembled—including Chris's ex-wife and his lifelong Sancho Panza, Garth Frierson, an unemployed bus driver and devotee of a schlock painter modeled on Thomas Kinkaid—and soon Chris is hoping to resuscitate his professional and romantic life, and also find the island of Tsalal, the "great undiscovered African Diasporan homeland... uncorrupted by whiteness." Though the love story is flat and some of the secondary characters are narrowly portrayed, the book is caustically hilarious as it offers a memorable take on America's "racial pathology" and "the whole ugly story of our world." (Mar.)
"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.
Johnson, the author of fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels, playfully explores race in America in his latest genre-jumping work. In the early chapters, filled with hilarious asides and footnotes, professor Chris Jaynes, a mixed-race African studies professor, is denied tenure at a prominent college after chafing at his role as token. Following a bender with an old childhood friend, now an unemployed bus driver, Jaynes uses money from the college's out-of-court settlement to begin researching Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, in the belief that it holds a key to understanding race relations in America. However, the novel soon goes south, literally, when Jaynes gathers a crew of associates and travels to Antarctica, setting of the Poe novel's fantastic adventures. A global apocalypse ensues, and this leaves the group cut off from the known world while they fight a race of white, Sasquatch-like beings. Told in utilitarian prose, the spiraling events take on a comic-book quality. VERDICT An amusing read, but comic-book fans may lament the absence of graphics, while fans of satirical fiction will wish Johnson had hewn to the witty racial commentary of the early chapters.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
A struggling professor of African-American lit falls through the rabbit hole of Edgar Allan Poe's strangest tale.
Multimedia writer and novelist Johnson (Hunting in Harlem, 2003, etc.) seems to have a fabulous time tinkering with wordplay and social conventions in his wildly inventive take on the roots of fantastic literature. The novel opens with an apologetic preface straight out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, begging pardon for the flights of fancy that follow. Johnson then launches into the loquacious world of Chris Jaynes, a professor at a liberal Manhattan college whose interest in teaching Poe over Ralph Ellison gets him fired. His interest in Poe's adventure is flagged when his "book pimp" scores him a true rarity, a frayed copy of The True and Interesting Narrative of Dirk Peters. Coloured Man. As Written by Himself. The book is an alternative version of Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a disjointed 1838 adventure novel that has long been the target of accusations of racism. Soon the odd professor has established the account's authenticity and even secured poor Dirk's skull from a distant descendent. This would be wild enough territory to explore, but Johnson soon ratchets things up. To further his knowledge, Jaynes launches an expedition to the Antarctic in the company of a deranged sea captain, a pal from the streets, and his old girlfriend. Traveling through a portal, the expedition finds a lost world where a desiccated, drunken Arthur Pym lives, protected by strange beasts ("Snow honkies," Jaynes dubs them). It all leads to some very funny moments of enlightenment for the conflicted professor. "Turns out though that my thorough and exhaustive scholarship into the slave narratives of the African Diaspora in no way prepared me to actually become a fucking slave," he says.
An acutely humorous, very original story that will delight lovers of literature and fantasy alike.