Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Open Books Open Minds - PYM: A Novel by Mat Johnson

The RIC Open Books--Open Minds common book for 2013/2014

Reviewers have called Johnson's PYM fantasy, adventure, satire and ...

“Johnson's Pym is a welcome riff on the surrealistic shudder-fest that is Poe's original…” -- Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s “Fresh Air”

"Mat Johnson's new novel is nothing short of fantastic, in every sense.  I fell in love with the voice, the tone and the world of Pym.  This is an adventure novel, a work of historical and social commentary, a rumination on identity.” --Percival Everett, author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier

“Pym is an adventure, a satire, and a bracing political debate all rolled into one brilliant novel.” --Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine

 “Social criticism rubs shoulders with cutting satire in this high-concept adventure…” – Publishers Weekly

 “A satire with heart, as courageous as it is cunning.” --Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor

“It’s no easy task to balance social satire against life-threatening adventure, the allegory against the gory, but Johnson’s hand is steady and his ability to play against Poe’s text masterly.” --New York Times Book Review

We know it's a novel, but is it a journeyman narrative? ... a satire? ... a pastiche? ...

"Black comedy: Disturbing or absurd material presented in a humorous manner, usually with the intention to confront uncomfortable truths. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a notable example."

"Burlesque: A humorous imitation of a serious work of literature. The humor often arises from the incongruity between the imitation and the work being imitated. For example, Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock uses the high diction of epic poetry to talk about a domestic matter."

"Epic: A lengthy narrative that describes the deeds of a heroic figure, often of national or cultural importance, in elevated language. Strictly, the term applies only to verse narratives like Beowulf or Virgil’s Aeneid, but it is used to describe prose, drama, or film works of similar scope, such as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables."

"Hero's journey: A basic narrative pattern, defined by Joseph Campbell, in which "the hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." Also called "monomyth." Homer's Odyssey is a classical monomyth."

"Historical novel: A novel set in an earlier historical period that features a plot shaped by the historical circumstances of that period. Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, written in the early 1990s, portrays a tragic romance set against the backdrop of World War II."

"Metafiction: Fiction that concerns the nature of fiction itself, either by reinterpreting a previous fictional work or by drawing attention to its own fictional status. Examples of the former include John Gardner’s Grendel, which retells the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf from a new perspective, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which portrays three women connected to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, including Woolf herself. An example of the latter is Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in which the narrator tells the story and simultaneously comments on his own telling of the story."

"Myth: A story about the origins of a culture’s beliefs and practices, or of supernatural phenomena, usually derived from oral tradition and set in an imagined supernatural past. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a famous early example. Some writers, such as William Blake and William Butler Yeats, have invented their own myths. Myths are similar, but not equivalent, to legends."

"Novel: A fictional prose narrative of significant length. Since the novel form became popular in the 1700s, however, the term has come to describe other works—nonfiction  novels, novels in verse, short novels, and others—that do not necessarily fit this strict definition."

"Journeyman narrative: traditionally, the story of an artisan or craftsman who has completed his apprenticeship but not yet become a master heading his own workshop. The term comes from the French journée, meaning day, referencing the journeyman's right to a daily wage, and also  his journey away from home for the experience of working in different workshops, before preparing a masterpiece (and paying a large fee) in order to join a guild. Hence, the travels and travails of a young person seeking his fortune."

"Parody: A humorous and often satirical imitation of the style or particular work of another author. Henry Fielding’s Shamela is a parody of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela."

"Pastiche: A work that imitates the style of a previous author, work, or literary genre. Alternatively, the term may refer to a work that contains a hodgepodge of elements or fragments from different sources or influences. Pastiche differs from parody in that its  imitation is not meant as a form of mockery. For example, John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman was written in the 1960s but imitates the style of the Victorian  novel."

"Picaresque novel: Originally, a realistic novel detailing a scoundrel’s exploits. The term  grew to refer more generally to any novel with a loosely structured, episodic plot that revolves around the adventures of a central character. Cervantes’s Don Quixote is a classic picaresque novel."

"Primitivist literature: Works that express a preference for the natural over the artificial in human culture, and a belief that the life of primitive cultures is preferable to modern lifestyles. Primitivism is often associated with a nostalgia for the lost innocence of a natural, childlike past. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the foremost advocates of primitivism in works such as Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse."

"Satire: A work that exposes to ridicule the shortcomings of individuals, institutions, or society, often to make a political point. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is one of the  most well-known satires in English."

"Science fiction: Fiction that is set in an alternative reality—often a technologically advanced future—and that contains fantastical elements. The genre traces its roots to the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the late 1800s. Notable 20th-century science fiction writers include Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov."