“THE SHARPEST AND MOST UNUSUAL STORY I READ LAST YEAR . . . [Mat] Johnson’s satirical vision roves as freely as Kurt Vonnegut’s and is colored with the same sort of passionate humanitarianism.”—Maud Newton, New York Times Magazine
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • Vanity Fair • Houston Chronicle • The Seattle Times • Salon • National Post • The A.V. Club
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes has just made a startling discovery: the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that confirms the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Determined to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes, Jaynes convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole, armed 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. Thus begins an epic journey by an unlikely band of adventurers under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries.
“Outrageously entertaining, [Pym] brilliantly re-imagines and extends Edgar Allan Poe’s enigmatic and unsettling Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. . . . Part social satire, part meditation on race in America, part metafiction and, just as important, a rollicking fantasy adventure . . . reminiscent of Philip Roth in its seemingly effortless blend of the serious, comic and fantastic.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“Blisteringly funny.”—Laura Miller, Salon
“Relentlessly entertaining.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Imagine Kurt Vonnegut having a beer with Ralph Ellison and Jules Verne.”—Vanity Fair
“Screamingly funny . . . Reading Pym is like opening a big can of whoop-ass and then marveling—gleefully—at all the mayhem that ensues.”—Houston Chronicle
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interest in Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, is passed over for tenure, he lucks into a copy of an unpublished 19th-century manuscript that suggests Poe's novel, which was partially set in Antarctica, was drawn closely from truth.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."
Customer ReviewsSee All
Fantastic mash-up of literary history and fantasy
As I read this ridiculously entertaining novel, it occurred to me that Mr. Johnson must have been a huge fan of Wes Anderson's film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and obviously Alan Moore's "Watchmen." All that's missing is the giant squid! Hey, I just did my own Pym-style Antarctic mash-up. Loved this book, going back to read Hunting in Harlem and his graphic novels.
Layers and layers of wonder
Mat is essential to today's conversation about race. Get familiar already.