Saturday, June 11, 2011

Whether You Loved or Hated "Arthur Gordon Pym"...

Mat Johnson Pym
...I recommend reading Mat Johnson's "Pym." It's often hilarious, and refreshingly original. I thought the first half of the book was much better than the second, but, then, that's what a lot of people have said about Poe's original work. If, like me, you've had some harrowing experiences in the deranged world of academia, you'll find some of the mockery particularly delicious. However, even if you have no interest in Poe (in which case, pray tell, why are you here?) this is one of the best social satires (a sadly dying breed) I've read since "A Confederacy of Dunces." A comedic novel based largely on racial issues is a particularly tricky business, but I think Johnson handled that aspect of the book cleverly and sanely, simply by lampooning us all.

In any case, how could I not like a book containing the line, "In this age when reality is built on big lies, what better place for truth than fiction?"

Despite what most of the reviews have said, however, I think it's a good idea to read (or re-read) Poe's novel before tackling this book. I've always believed "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym" was itself meant as satire--albeit of a characteristically cryptic and mystical kind--so having a detailed familiarity with his work brings a fuller dimension to Johnson's reinvention. (Incidentally, I largely disagree with Johnson's interpretation of Poe's "Pym," but that's irrelevant to this novel, particularly since, considering the context of his book, I question whether he meant this interpretation to be treated completely seriously.)