By Mat Johnson
Spiegel & Grau, Hardcover, 9780812981582, 336pp.
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
A comic journey into the ultimate land of whiteness by an unlikely band of African American adventurers
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes is obsessed with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel. When he discovers the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that seems to confirm the reality of Poe’s fiction, he resolves to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes with horror. Jaynes imagines it to be the last untouched bastion of the African Diaspora and the key to his personal salvation.
He convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole in search of adventure, natural resources to exploit, and, for Jaynes at least, the mythical world of the novel. With little but the firsthand account from which Poe derived his seafaring tale, a bag of bones, and a stash of Little Debbie snack cakes, Jaynes embarks on an epic journey under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries. He finds that here, there be monsters.
"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.
Mat Johnson's Pym is a modern-day sequel to Edgar Allan Poe's only novel. Poe's characters discover an island populated only by blacks. Johnson's characters set off to the South Pole to find this island but uncover something entirely different. More at NPR.org
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