A struggling professor of African-American lit falls through the rabbit hole of Edgar Allan Poe's strangest tale.
Multimedia writer and novelist Johnson (Hunting in Harlem, 2003, etc.) seems to have a fabulous time tinkering with wordplay and social conventions in his wildly inventive take on the roots of fantastic literature. The novel opens with an apologetic preface straight out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, begging pardon for the flights of fancy that follow. Johnson then launches into the loquacious world of Chris Jaynes, a professor at a liberal Manhattan college whose interest in teaching Poe over Ralph Ellison gets him fired. His interest in Poe's adventure is flagged when his "book pimp" scores him a true rarity, a frayed copy of The True and Interesting Narrative of Dirk Peters. Coloured Man. As Written by Himself. The book is an alternative version of Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a disjointed 1838 adventure novel that has long been the target of accusations of racism. Soon the odd professor has established the account's authenticity and even secured poor Dirk's skull from a distant descendent. This would be wild enough territory to explore, but Johnson soon ratchets things up. To further his knowledge, Jaynes launches an expedition to the Antarctic in the company of a deranged sea captain, a pal from the streets, and his old girlfriend. Traveling through a portal, the expedition finds a lost world where a desiccated, drunken Arthur Pym lives, protected by strange beasts ("Snow honkies," Jaynes dubs them). It all leads to some very funny moments of enlightenment for the conflicted professor. "Turns out though that my thorough and exhaustive scholarship into the slave narratives of the African Diaspora in no way prepared me to actually become a fucking slave," he says.
An acutely humorous, very original story that will delight lovers of literature and fantasy alike.Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Johnson, the author of fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels, playfully explores race in America in his latest genre-jumping work. In the early chapters, filled with hilarious asides and footnotes, professor Chris Jaynes, a mixed-race African studies professor, is denied tenure at a prominent college after chafing at his role as token. Following a bender with an old childhood friend, now an unemployed bus driver, Jaynes uses money from the college's out-of-court settlement to begin researching Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, in the belief that it holds a key to understanding race relations in America. However, the novel soon goes south, literally, when Jaynes gathers a crew of associates and travels to Antarctica, setting of the Poe novel's fantastic adventures. A global apocalypse ensues, and this leaves the group cut off from the known world while they fight a race of white, Sasquatch-like beings. Told in utilitarian prose, the spiraling events take on a comic-book quality. VERDICT An amusing read, but comic-book fans may lament the absence of graphics, while fans of satirical fiction will wish Johnson had hewn to the witty racial commentary of the early chapters.--Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA[Page 84]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Social criticism rubs shoulders with cutting satire in this high-concept adventure from novelist (Hunting in Harlem) and graphic novelist (Incognegro) Johnson. Shortly after Chris Jaynes, a struggling "blackademic" at a small Hudson Valley college who has a particular interest in Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, is passed over for tenure, he lucks into a copy of an unpublished 19th-century manuscript that suggests Poe's novel, which was partially set in Antarctica, was drawn closely from truth. From here, the story takes a forceful turn into the weird and funny: Chris's cousin has a scheme to use Antarctic ice for a bottled water empire. A crew is assembled--including Chris's ex-wife and his lifelong Sancho Panza, Garth Frierson, an unemployed bus driver and devotee of a schlock painter modeled on Thomas Kinkaid--and soon Chris is hoping to resuscitate his professional and romantic life, and also find the island of Tsalal, the "great undiscovered African Diasporan homeland... uncorrupted by whiteness." Though the love story is flat and some of the secondary characters are narrowly portrayed, the book is caustically hilarious as it offers a memorable take on America's "racial pathology" and "the whole ugly story of our world." (Mar.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC