A dizzy rewrite of Poe and a heckuva fun read.
It's at first a sharp-eyed satire on literature and on race. Narrated by an African-American professor, recently fired, who is obsessed with Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
. He comes to find (shades of Coetzee's rewrite of Crusoe, Foe
) a real-life predicate to Poe's whacked-out Antarctic phantasm (with all its antebellum racial sicknesses), and ends up in Antarctica. . . where things (or Things) emerge.
The novel's earlier approach to satire is smart but a little stiff-legged; easy targets, some nice riffing but it doesn't really dance as much as occasionally jump and jab at race today, at a big dull-eyed slow vision of the Academy. (There is some very smart stuff about whiteness in American lit, 'though it's mining Morrison's Nobel speech rather than tearing up new ground.) But in Antarctica, Johnson's strengths really emerge: he writes a solid adventure tale that keeps ringing new tones from his central satirical targets. I enjoyed reading it--like what's-going-to-happen-next? enjoyed, constantly delighted by Johnson's inventive plotting, and even more consistently poked and pleased by his engagement with whiteness.