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Pym

Cover of Pym

Pym

A Novel
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"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
  • "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
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    Excerpts-
    • 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. The only things worse than the ones who were happy about my dismissal were the ones that weren't. The sympathy, the condolences. It was all so white. I was the only black male professor on campus. Professor of African American Literature. Professional Negro. Over the years since my original hire I pushed away from that and insisted on teaching American literature in general, following a path toward my passion, toward Edgar Allan Poe. Specifically, I offered the course "Dancing with the Darkies: Whiteness in the Literary Mind" twice a year, regardless of enrollment. In regard to the number of students who chose to attend the seminar, I must say in my defense that the greatest ideas are often presented to empty chairs. However, a different theory on proper class size was cited in my denial letter from the president, and given as a reason to overturn the faculty's approval.

      Curing America's racial pathology couldn't be done with good intentions or presidential elections. Like all diseases, it had to be analyzed at a microscopic level. What I discovered during my studies in Poe's and other early Americans' texts was the intellectual source of racial Whiteness. Here, in these pages, was the very fossil record of how this odd and illogical sickness formed. Here was the twisted mythic underpinnings of modern racial thought that could never before be dismantled because we were standing on them. You don't cure an illness by ignoring it or just fighting the symptoms. A Kleenex has never eradicated a cold. I was doing essential work, work affecting domestic policy, foreign policy, the entire social fabric of the most powerful nation of the world. Work that related directly to the way we lived our daily lives and perceived reality itself. Who cared if a bunch of overprivileged nineteen-year-olds with questionable hygiene could be bothered to rise for the 8 a.m. class? Who cared if I chose to not waste even more precious research time attending the toothless Diversity Committee?

      "Just get your books, dog. And get out of there. Pack up your place, focus on what you can do. You want, you can come back with me to Detroit. It's cheap, I got a big crib. Ain't no jobs, but still." Garth and I drove up the Taconic in the rain. I was still drunk, and the wet road was like lines on a snake's back and my stomach was going to spill. Even drunk, I knew any escape plan that involved going to Detroit, Michigan, was a harbinger of doom. Garth Frierson was my boy, from when we were boys, from when I lived in a basement apartment in Philly and he lived over the laundromat next door. Garth didn't even ask how many books I had, but he must have suspected.

      Because I had books. I had books like a lit professor has books. And then I...

    About the Author-
    • Mat Johnson was born and raised in Philadelphia, and has lived most of his life elsewhere. He is the author of several novels and graphic novels including Drop, Hunting in Harlem, and Incognegro. Johnson is a faculty member at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program and lives in Texas with his wife and children.

    Reviews-
    • Percival Everett, author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier

      "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."

    • Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine "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."
    • 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. No one today writes inside the brilliant black mind better."
    • Publishers Weekly, starred review "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.'"
    • Kirkus, starred review "An acutely humorous, very original story that will delight lovers of literature and fantasy alike."
    • Booklist "This extension of Poe's adventure is a romp that surprises on every page. Funny, insightful...Pym is a death-defying adventure."
    • Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and the Virgin of Flames. "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."
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