"ALWAYS THOUGHT if I didn't get tenure I would shoot myself or strap a bomb to my chest and walk into the faculty cafeteria, but when it happened I just got bourbon drunk and cried a lot and rolled into a ball on my office floor." So begins Mat Johnson's ballsy new novel Pym: Chris Jaynes has just lost his job teaching African American literature, because he's more interested in studying whiteness as a construct than in joining the campus diversity committee. Specifically, he's interested in whiteness as constructed by Edgar Allan Poe, in Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

Poe's book tells of sailors who're shipwrecked on an island populated by black natives. After they escape, the novel abruptly ends on the vision of a mysterious white specter.

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When Chris Jaynes stumbles across an old journal that leads him to believe that Poe's tale was based in fact, he puts together a crew and sets out for Antarctica, hoping to find his way to the black-inhabited island Poe describes. Instead, the crew encounters a tribe of Poe's white beings—revolting visions of pure whiteness that serve as a long-overdue rebuttal to literary constructions of blackness (not least in Poe's writings).

Pym is a gleefully inverted Heart of Darkness; a fearless send-up of literary racism that offers a frank window into contemporary racial neuroses. Also, there's an apocalypse. (Possibly the Apocalypse.) It's insightful, blazingly unique, and funny as hell.

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