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Pym Lives!

February 7, 2012 by Reader's Connection

PymWe had to stream the Super Bowl on Sunday night, and didn´t get to see Madonna´s half-time show or the real Super Bowl commercials, so I´m grateful for the tweets on Mat Johnson´s website.

mat_johnson: How many people were killed in that trainwreck?
SteveHuff: Looks like Dorothy threw a bucket of water on Madonna at the end there.
pourmecoffee: If you’re like me, you were just thinking, “What US politics could use is a controversy over what Clint Eastwood thinks.”
bromoore: Karl Rove is apoplectic because he knows the Clint Eastwood ad was super and a 44 yard touchdown pass acknowledging job growth in America.

Yikes. My family obviously missed a lot. But XLVI is behind us, now. As a part of African-American History Month, I’m here to promote Johnson’s 2011 novel Pym, in which Chris Jaynes, an Aframerican literature professor, disgusted over having been denied tenure, treks off to Antarctica. He’s convinced that Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was–have you already guessed?–a true story.

The Eyre AffairJohnson is taking a chance, here. How many people have read the Poe novel? In my 2010 post about Jasper Fforde’s novels, I wrote about how I had had to read Jane Eyre in order to read The Eyre Affair. But Fforde wasn’t asking all that much of his readers. The English-speaking people who have read Jane Eyre greatly outnumber those who have read Poe’s Narrative. The following equation is based on an informal Reader’s Connection poll:


The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of NantucketMat Johnson was aware of this challenge, though. You shouldn’t miss out on the pleasures of his novel just because you haven’t read the one by Poe. He describes as much as you need to know about The Narrative, and he’s hilarious about the book’s flaws.

I hadn’t read Poe’s novel, myself, but I rose to the occasion, read it alongside Johnson’s, and enjoyed both of them deeply. I don’t think Poe’s racism would have slipped past me without Johnson’s guidance, but I loved the way the books echoed each other, and threw light into each other’s Antarctic and Tsalalian tunnels.

My sons kept asking me why I was laughing. Johnson is funny about Poe, racism, DNA testing, Little Debbie snack foods, almost anything he wants to handle. So it’s amazing that at the end of his laugh-filled fantasy novel I was moved by the way things went with Chris Jaynes and his fellow explorers. Johnson is trying to throw some new light on race–which sounds boring, but isn’t–and I hope his nutty book is at least nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.


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