Summary and book reviews of Pym by Mat Johnson

Pym

A Novel

by Mat Johnson

Pym by Mat Johnson
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Chapter I

Always thought if I didn’t get tenure I would shoot myself or strap a bomb to my chest and walk into the faculty cafeteria, but when it happened I just got bourbon drunk and cried a lot and rolled into a ball on my office floor. A couple days of this and I couldn’t take it so I ended classes a week early and checked into the Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast in Harlem to be among my own race and party away the pain. But mostly I just found myself back in that same ball some more, still on the floor, just at a more historically resonant address. My buddy Garth Frierson, he’d been laid off about six months before, and was nice enough to drive all the way from Detroit to help a childhood friend. This help mostly consisted of him sitting his bus driver ass on my rented bed, busting on me until I had enough shame to get off my own duff and try to make something of myself again.

By then the term was over, graduation done, campus vacant. I didn’t want to see anybody. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Imagine the conversation around the table at Random House when Mat Johnson's agent pitched Pym:

"This book is Eddie Murphy does The X-Files."

"No, it's Philip K. Dick with a touch of The Corrections."

"Wait, I thought it was post-colonial Gothic stuff - Edgar Allan Poe meets Urkel from that old TV show..."   (Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).

Full Review (767 words).

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Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda

Hats off, please, to Mat Johnson, author of this wonderful, black-humored novel - part social satire, part meditation on race in America, part metafiction and, just as important, a rollicking fantasy adventure.... Pym really shouldn't be missed.

Salon

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.

The New York Times - Adam Mansbach

[R]elentlessly 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 toward the heart of whiteness.

Library Journal

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Though the love story is flat and some of the secondary characters are narrowly portrayed, the book is caustically hilarious.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An acutely humorous, very original story that will delight lovers of literature and fantasy alike.

Author Blurb Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine
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.

Author Blurb Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and Rebel Yell
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.

Author Blurb Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor
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.

Reader Reviews

Phyllis

Social Satire At Its Best
The social satire within the pages of Mat Johnson's latest offering, Pym, is nothing short of brilliant and extremely hilarious -- I found it to be a seriously and literally "laugh out loud" funny novel! Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's The ...   Read More

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Polar Creepiness in Early Sci-Fi Novels

Uncharted expanses of polar ice are blank pages for science fiction writers to drool over, and many frozen landmarks spring to mind when trolling the genre. frozen waterfall image What better place to locate creepy caves, secret lairs, and unexplained phenomena? A closer look through the early literature of science fiction reveals that polar inscrutability has stirred the imagination for many generations.

Frankenstein cover Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) opens with the letters of an Arctic explorer, Robert Walton, who comes across an eerie sight: "We beheld, stretched out in every direction, vast and irregular plains of ice, which seemed to have no end. Some of my comrades groaned, and my own mind began to grow watchful with anxious thoughts, when a strange ...

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