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Pym by Mat Johnson
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2861739,987 (3.83)13
  1. 10
    Sensation by Nick Mamatas (Longshanks)
    Longshanks: Two intelligent satires which make their points with a balance of clever observation and silliness. And not the lol-so-random monkeycheese sort of silliness.
  2. 10
    The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (goddesspt2)
  3. 00
    Long Division by Kiese Laymon (hairball)
    hairball: These books just go together, even though on the surface they don't seem alike.
  4. 00
    Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg (kara.shamy)
    kara.shamy: It's the only other book that reveals the same beautiful, weird, brilliant, absurd wit in it the authorial voice. There may be other examples (countless, even) that aren't coming to mind.

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I wanted to love this novel. I've read Poe's Pym; I loved the idea of a subversive, critical-race-theory-inflected continuation; and the blurbs on my paperback copy promised brilliance and hilarity.

Well, there's some funny/smart stuff in the first few chapters about racial politics in academia and race in American history, but overall it's a hot mess of a book, an unsuccessful mixture of literary counterhistory, heavy-handed satire, and cheesy 1950s sci-fi melodrama.

Others have discussed the plot and characterization issues so I will comment on what is equally problematic: the weak grasp of the historical period at the center of the novel's back story. The main character is an academic which allows for lengthy embedded lectures on Poe's Pym, the history of the slave narrative, African American literature, etc. And of course, the novel is peppered with fabricated quotations from apocryphal writings by Dirk Peters and Poe.

But aside from a wonderful early chapter summarizing Poe's novel with satirical commentary most of this is very halfassed. Johnson's awkward imitations of C19 style are unconvincing--they fail even as pastiche. And as for the excurses on lit history, it hardly inspires confidence to be informed by the narrator, an English prof, that Uncle Tom's Cabin was written in 1838 (!) by a "little old white lady" (!!). When Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1851/52 (not 1838), H. B. Stowe was just out of her thirties--not exactly elderly, even by Victorian standards. But more importantly, the false date is the basis for further counterfactual claims about Stowe's role in eliminating demand for authentic slave narratives (in 1838--seven years before Douglass's first autobiography). The unmistakable misogyny of "little old white lady" resonates with and may explain the novel's difficulty with female characters. But mainly I am struck by the incompetence of it. It is possible this was part of a deliberate effort to undermine the reliability of the narrator, but I don't think so. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
This book was crazy and a fun read. Although i resisted at first, at one point I just had to say alright , I'm in. Slavery in Antartica? Thomas Karvel (ie Kinkade Painter of light) living in a technicolor wonka-esque Biosphere after the Armageddon? Big Yeti creatures hanging out in underground ice caves? Okay, sign me up. Now I have to read the original from Edgar Allan Poe. wtf eap? ( )
  RachelGMB | Aug 5, 2015 |
This novel takes a group of six African Americans to Antarctica at the behest of a professor who was recently denied tenure. He is trying to track down the real story of Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, with the help of the recently discovered diary of one of Pym's shipmates. In Antarctica they find large white neanderthal-like humanoids living in large, elaborate ice caves under the surface. They also find Pym who, inexplicably, is around 200 years old, and a landscape painter living in a bio-dome.

The novel is a mash-up of a 19th Century adventure novel, a commentary on race (portrayed in many facets, but mostly starkly in black vs. the whitest of the white humanoid creatures), a comic buddy story, and an exploration of Poe's original work.

It is all enjoyable and parts, like the depiction of the 200 year old Pym who believes all the African Americans are slaves and the Antarctic creatures are gods, is particularly humorous and well depicted. But most of the central characters are really caricatures and much of the plot development feels slightly haphazard. Nonetheless, there are not many other books like this one. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
I am glad this novel brought my attention to the absolute craziness that is Poe's Pym. I have not read it, but the highlight reel presented in this book further convinces me that Poe is not a writer American culture should celebrate.
More specifically to this novel, I found it interesting and enjoyable, but not particularly special.
The commentary on academia will definitely entertain anyone working in that field- the main character's frustrations will probably feel very familiar. The sci-fi turn of the second half of the book is pretty funny, and would appeal to genre enthusiasts, but the two parts just don't totally hang together as a cohesive whole. I feel like the satire of the realist half disappears when things get weird and the stylistic shift was a little too much. Fun read, accurate commentary on the academy and race relations, but not quite to my tastes as far as novel construction goes. ( )
  whiteroseyes | Mar 30, 2014 |
Mat Johnson's Pym is nothing less than an absolute masterpiece. It is easily among the top 5 books I have ever read in my life. Johnson continually shows a razor sharp wit in crafting his protagonist's consciousness -- at different moments, his observations had me heartily laughing out loud at his incisive or absurd insights, giggling at the silliness of the fantastical realm he finds himself in, and chuckling bittersweetly at the comically framed horrors that are sometimes described. A lot of the genius of this work inheres in Johnson's deep understanding of how absurdity can resonate profoundly with reality and his sensitivity to the poignancy of its actual presence in real life.

If you like literary heavyweights who write compelling plots in sophisticated and original ways, try this book. If some of your favorite comedy (in any medium) is dramedy, try this book. If you are sensitive to the presence of race in American life, try this book. If you appreciate the absurd, try this book. ( )
  kara.shamy | Jan 9, 2014 |
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UPON my return to the United States a few months ago, after the extraordinary series of adventures in the South Seas and elsewhere, which you can read about on the pages that follow, I found myself in the company of several gentleman in Richmond, Va., who were deeply interested in the regions I had visited, and who were constantly urging it upon me, as a duty, to give my narrative to the public.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812981588, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A comic journey into the ultimate land of whiteness by an unlikely band of African American adventurers. Jaynes is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe's only novel ; when he discovers a crude slave narrative that seems to confirm the reality of Poe's fiction, he resolves to seek out Tsalal, imagining it to be a key to his personal salvation.… (more)

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