Feature

Novel of the week: Pym by Mat Johnson

Pym is “screamingly funny,” said Maggie Galehouse in the Houston Chronicle.

(Spiegel & Grau, $24)

Seldom does a novel come along that’s “part social satire, part meditation on race,” and a “rollicking fantasy adventure” to boot, said Michael Dirda in The Washington Post. Mat Johnson’s clever inversion of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym centers on Chris Jaynes, a black professor denied tenure at a “historically white” college because he’s refused to join the school’s diversity committee. Jaynes is convinced that Poe’s odd fable—about a shipwreck on an island where the natives are black to the teeth—holds the key to the American conception of “whiteness.” When Jaynes finds a document suggesting that Poe’s island may be real, he assembles an all-black expedition to find it. “As set-ups for novels go,” Pym’s “is pretty convoluted,” said Maggie Galehouse in the Houston Chronicle. Things get even more outlandish when Jaynes’s expedition encounters a race of all-white “super ice honkies.” But Pym is “screamingly funny.” It might even give metafiction a good name.

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