Pym: A Novel

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“THE SHARPEST AND MOST UNUSUAL STORY I READ LAST YEAR . . . [Mat] Johnson’s satirical vision roves as freely as Kurt Vonnegut’s and is colored with the same sort of passionate humanitarianism.”—Maud Newton, New York Times Magazine

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • Vanity Fair • Houston Chronicle • The Seattle Times • Salon • National Post The A.V. Club

 
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes has just made a startling discovery: the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that confirms the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Determined to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes, Jaynes convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole, armed 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. Thus begins an epic journey by an unlikely band of adventurers under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries.
 
“Outrageously entertaining, [Pym] brilliantly re-imagines and extends Edgar Allan Poe’s enigmatic and unsettling Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. . . . Part social satire, part meditation on race in America, part metafiction and, just as important, a rollicking fantasy adventure . . . reminiscent of Philip Roth in its seemingly effortless blend of the serious, comic and fantastic.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Blisteringly funny.”—Laura Miller, Salon

“Relentlessly entertaining.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Imagine Kurt Vonnegut having a beer with Ralph Ellison and Jules Verne.”—Vanity Fair


“Screamingly funny . . . Reading Pym is like opening a big can of whoop-ass and then marveling—gleefully—at all the mayhem that ensues.”—Houston Chronicle
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About the author

Mat Johnson was born and raised in Philadelphia, and has lived most of his life elsewhere. He is the author of several novels and graphic novels including Drop, Hunting in Harlem, and Incognegro. Johnson is a faculty member at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program and lives in Texas with his wife and children.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Spiegel & Grau
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Published on
Mar 1, 2011
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780679603825
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Language
English
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Genres
Fiction / African American / General
Fiction / Alternative History
Fiction / Literary
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE

At the bitter end of the 1960s, after surviving multiple assassination attempts, President John F. Kennedy is entering his third term in office. The Vietnam War rages on, and the president has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning from the war have their battlefield traumas “enfolded”—wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy—while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the government and reenacting atrocities on civilians.

This destabilized version of American history is the vision of twenty-two-year old Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book-within-a-book at the center of Hystopia. In conversation with some of the greatest war narratives, from Homer’s Iliad to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” David Means channels the voice of Allen, the young veteran out to write a novel that can bring honor to those he fought with in Vietnam while also capturing the tragic history of his own family.

The critic James Wood has written that Means’s language “offers an exquisitely precise and sensuous register of an often crazy American reality.” In Hystopia, his highly anticipated first novel, David Means brings his full talent to bear on the crazy reality of trauma, both national and personal. Outlandish and tender, funny and violent, timely and historical, Hystopia invites us to consider whether our traumas can ever be truly overcome. The answers it offers are wildly inventive, deeply rooted in its characters, and wrung from the author’s own heart.

*Best New Science Fiction for Summer by The Washington Post
*A Most-Anticipated book of 2017 by The Millions

Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too.
 
That’s the slogan. The product: a junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. It’s an old con, playing on the fear that we are obvious to everybody except ourselves. This particular ad has been circulating New York since the 1960s and it works. But, oddly enough, so might the device...

A small stream of city dwellers buy into this cult of the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents. This stigma follows them when they move upstate, where Venter can’t avoid the whispers of teachers and neighbors any more than he can ignore the machine’s accurate predictions: his mother’s abandonment and his father’s disinterest. So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine and inoculate himself against his family’s mistakes, he’s only too happy to oblige.

Like his parents before him, Venter is quick to fall under the spell of the device’s sweat-stained, profane, and surprisingly charming operator, Adam Lyons. But unlike them, Venter gets close enough to Adam to learn a dark secret. There’s an undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes. And Adam won’t jeopardize the privacy of his customers by alerting the police.

It may be a hoax, but that doesn’t mean what Adam is selling isn’t also spot-on. And in this sprawling, snarling tragicomedy about accountability in contemporary America, the greater danger is that Adam Lyon’s apparatus may just be right about us all. This is "can't-miss pop culture."(Vox)
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • “[Mat Johnson’s] unrelenting examination of blackness, whiteness and everything in between is handled with ruthless candor and riotous humor.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“Razor-sharp . . . Loving Day is that rare mélange: cerebral comedy with pathos.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • San Francisco Chronicle • NPR • Men’s Journal • The Miami Herald • The Denver Post • Slate • The Kansas City Star • San Antonio Express-News • Time Out New York

Warren Duffy has returned to America for all the worst reasons: His marriage to a beautiful Welsh woman has come apart; his comics shop in Cardiff has failed; and his Irish American father has died, bequeathing to Warren his last possession, a roofless, half-renovated mansion in the heart of black Philadelphia. On his first night in his new home, Warren spies two figures outside in the grass. When he screws up the nerve to confront them, they disappear. The next day he encounters ghosts of a different kind: In the face of a teenage girl he meets at a comics convention he sees the mingled features of his white father and his black mother, both now dead. The girl, Tal, is his daughter, and she’s been raised to think she’s white.

Spinning from these revelations, Warren sets off to remake his life with a reluctant daughter he’s never known, in a haunted house with a history he knows too well. In their search for a new life, he and Tal struggle with ghosts, fall in with a utopian mixed-race cult, and ignite a riot on Loving Day, the unsung holiday for interracial lovers.

A frequently hilarious, surprisingly moving story about blacks and whites, fathers and daughters, the living and the dead, Loving Day celebrates the wonders of opposites bound in love.

Praise for Loving Day

“Incisive . . . razor-sharp . . . that rare mélange: cerebral comedy with pathos. The vitality of our narrator deserves much of the credit for that. He has the neurotic bawdiness of Philip Roth’s Alexander Portnoy; the keen, caustic eye of Bob Jones in Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go; the existential insight of Ellison’s Invisible Man.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Exceptional . . . To say that Loving Day is a book about race is like saying Moby-Dick is a book about whales. . . . [Mat Johnson’s] unrelenting examination of blackness, whiteness and everything in between is handled with ruthless candor and riotous humor. . . . Even when the novel’s family strife and racial politics are at peak intensity, Johnson’s comic timing is impeccable.”—Los Angeles Times

“Johnson, at his best, is a powerful comic observer [and] a gifted writer, always worth reading on the topics of race and privilege.’”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
This debut novel by the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad wowed critics and readers everywhere and marked the debut of an important American writer.

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

It is a time of calamity in a major metropolitan city's Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it.  There are two warring factions within the department:  the Empiricists, who work by the book and dutifully check for striations on the winch cable and such; and the Intuitionists, who are simply able to enter the elevator cab in question, meditate, and intuit any defects.  

Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department.  But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae's watch, chaos ensues.  It's an election year in the Elevator Guild, and the good-old-boy Empiricists would love nothing more than to assign the blame to an Intuitionist.  But Lila Mae is never wrong.

The sudden appearance of excerpts from the lost notebooks of Intuitionism's founder, James Fulton, has also caused quite a stir.  The notebooks describe Fulton's work on the "black box," a perfect elevator that could reinvent the city as radically as the first passenger elevator did when patented by Elisha Otis in the nineteenth century.  When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the portions of the notebooks that are still missing and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever.
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