• Pym, Volume #4

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 5 comments

    Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the final installment of the WBN online book club’s discussion of Pym. It’s been a wild ride. We laughed, we cried, we witnessed not one but two civilizations crumble. Not bad in a month’s time.

    If you’re just now joining us, don’t forget to check out our discussions of Volume I, Volume II, and Volume III. Note: Our Volume III post is feeling seriously neglected, so if the spirit moves you, do share your thoughts there before you do so here. Or not. Whatever floats your boat.

    One order of business before we close up shop on Pym. February’s book club pick is The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides led by our very own Jenna Cooper. Our reading/discussion schedule is as follows:

    February 5-11: “A Madman in Love” and “Pilgrims”
    Discussion posted Feb. 14
    February 12-18: “Brilliant Move” and “Asleep in the Lord”
    Discussion posted Feb. 21
    February 19-25: “And Sometimes They Were Very Sad” and “The Bachelorette’s Survival Kit”
    Discussion posted Feb. 28


    If you’re not yet a book club member and would like to be, it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon. Simply use the comments section below to express interest and join us on our Eugenides adventure.

    And now, Pym Volume IV.

    Emotional Truth (again)

    In our discussion of Volume I, book club member Leah Kaminsky requested that at the end of the book we return to the question of emotional truth. Yes, let’s:

    Chris deems Poe’s Pym “a book that at points makes no sense, gets wrong both history and science, and yet stumbles into an emotional truth greater than both” (22). Will Johnson’s Pym take the same form, or will he seek to revise Poe’s authorial missteps in service of a more technically successful piece of literature?

    Black, White, and Everything in Between

    Also in Volume I, book club member Laura Roberts raises the interesting question of what our artistic tastes say about us as people, if anything.

    In response to a conversation about character roles, Jenna Cooper comments: “I think Garth is a foil for Chris; Garth appreciates art on an aesthetic level (i.e. Karvel paintings), and his likes and dislikes aren’t determined by critical analysis.” Or the delineation of white vs. black.

    What conclusions are we meant to draw from Chris’s and Garth’s opposing points of view? Are these stances clearly demarcated or is the issue akin to the crew’s approach to Tsalal during which “There is only gray” (319)?

    Even More Fun with Footnotes

    In Volume II, I raised the question of Johnson’s creative use of footnotes throughout.

    Justine: When [the footnotes are] not straddling the line between academia and entertainment … they’re calling into question the very narrative they’re supplementing.

    “The events that follow are fantastical and challenged the imaginations even of those of us who experienced them firsthand. I will therefore attempt to relay them to you in the most straightforward manner I can manage, taking on the same level of distance I did on that day, simply to avoid being completely overwhelmed.” (129)

    What an interesting inclusion. Why does Johnson feel the need to provide this disclaimer? What is it accomplishing? How does it affect our reading of the events to follow?

    Leah: I normally hate footnotes, but they work quite well here throughout. The information provided was often hilarious, and I loved how they often eviscerated character’s claimed truth. I do want to return to the disclaimer at the end of the book, as I have much to say!

    Say away, Leah. Say away.

    The Fate of Humanity

    Pym opens with a preface in which C. Jaynes—gotta be Chris—introduces the narrative to follow as a true account framed as fiction. This implies that a.) Chris eventually leaves Tsalal, and b.) civilization still stands, at least in some form.

    What effect, if any, does this realization have on our reading of Chris’s account?

    In your comments, feel free to respond to the questions I’ve posed above, or raise new talking points and questions for us to toss around. If you’ve got something to say about Pym, friends, now is the time to do it.

    And don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail” box below to stay engaged with the conversation.


    WriteByNight owner Justine Tal Goldberg is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her short stories have appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, and other publications. Her journalistic work has appeared in Publishing Perspectives, Austin Monthly and the Texas Observer, among others. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College.

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    […] light of next month’s book club read, I have to put down my newest fix. Neal Stephenson’s latest novel Reamde is a smart tech […]

    Leah Kaminsky

    Okay, weighing in! Re: the initial disclaimer and the fate of humanity. Do any of you have any more thoughts on why Johnson included the disclaimer? Is it simply there as an aping of Poe’s form? Like the footnotes, is it there to make us question the veracity of supposedly authoritative academic texts? Is it encouragement not to build our lives around books and/or academia? Purely from a gut, readerly reaction, I have to say not learning what happened to the rest of the society and how the book eventually got published bugged me to no end. I felt like… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Regarding the disclaimer, it felt a little bit to me like Johnson (or Chris) expressing an innate discomfort with the fantastic-ness and unbelievability of the story. What is a disclaimer if not an attempt to protect the speaker/writer from the dangers of a claim? Does that feel like a viable explanation or a reach made by an overly picky reader, i.e. me? I’m annoyed by the persistence of civilization, too. If the book was published which it clearly was, that clearly suggests a highly funtional society in which publication exists, a far cry from the post-apocalyptic society we imagine would… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    And I just realized that I didn’t really answer your question, re: emotional truth. Sorry about that!

    So are you thinking this is a commentary on the Anxiety of Influence, the inescapable impact that literature has on the literature that comes later?

    And yet again, I have not answered your question. I’ve posed a new one. Double sorry.

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