Pym

Mat Johnson, Author
Mat Johnson, Random/Spiegel & Grau, $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8129-8158-2
Paperback - 367 pages - 978-0-8129-8176-6
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-679-60382-5
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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interest in Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, is passed over for tenure, he lucks into a copy of an unpublished 19th-century manuscript that suggests Poe's novel, which was partially set in Antarctica, was drawn closely from truth.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." (Mar.)
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