Marie’s Reading: “Pym: A Novel” by Mat Johnson

You need not have read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (his only attempt at a novel, and a bizarre one at that) in order to enjoy Johnson’s Pym: A Novel.  However, your enjoyment of the story will be improved quite a bit if you suspend your disbelief.  In fact, don’t bother merely suspending your disbelief.  Just let it drop to the ground and leave it there–this is the sort of book you just have to roll with.

Pym is an adventure story, a commentary on race in America, a social satire, and the story of one man’s academic obsession.  Chris Jaynes, a professor of American literature, is obsessed with Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.  After he’s fired from his job, he comes across evidence that the Narrative just might be true.  So he selects an all-African-American crew of explorers to travel to Antarctica on a mission to discover the island of pure blackness that Poe describes in his novel.   The adventure gets more serious when contact with the outside world breaks off, and the explorers discover just how true the story actually was.

Jaynes is a great narrator, and Johnson makes his points cleverly and well.  Also, he’s great at one-liners–this is a really funny book.

A funny, smart romp with many allusions.  If you enjoy comedic adventures, satire, and/or books with lots of literary and academic allusion, you should give Pym a try.


2 thoughts on “Marie’s Reading: “Pym: A Novel” by Mat Johnson

  1. Marie,

    Jaynes’s voyage of discovery calls to mind a wonderful short story on a similar theme: Ursula LeGuin’s “Sur.” It’s about a attempt by a group of Argentine women to be the first to reach the south pole, long before the guys got their act together. They make it all the way too. Only on their return they decide not to call attention to what they have done so as not to spoil the fun for the male explorers who will make the same attempt shortly after theirs. Like Pym, the story is a hoot.


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