Long Division contains two interwoven stories. In the first, it's 2013: After an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, fourteen-year-old Citoyen "City" Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he's sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.
Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book's main characters is also named City Coldson - but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985 City, along with his friend and love-object, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future and steals a laptop and cell phone from an orphaned teenage rapper called…Baize Shephard.
They ultimately take these with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet protect his family from the Klan.
City's two stories ultimately converge in the mysterious work shed behind his grandmother's, where he discovers the key to Baize's disappearance.
©2013 Kiese Laymon (P)2013 Tantor
"Laymon's debut novel is an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism." (Booklist)
I was really looking forward to this book after the chapter in Laymon’s essay collection about the trials he had to go through to get it published. It’s about a black boy in Mississippi who finds a book that tells a parallel story about a black boy with the same name (and friends and family) but in a different year. There’s a hole in the woods that allows time travel, the Klan, family secrets revealed, and a few interesting discussions of race (and a bit about gender). (There’s a black man who gets killed by the Klan after making a come-on to a 16-year-old white girl. Of course, killing him was an evil but a female character notes that it’s messed up for a grown man to be talking that way to a girl.) Anyway, by the end, I was frustrated with it and I realized why: It’s just like when someone goes on and on and on about a crazy dream where all these fantastical and nonsensical things happen — it’s interesting to them but not to anybody else.
I found this story gripping. As I usually do, I listen and read a hard copy of the book simultaneously. Layers of meaning and nuance, echoes, appear across the different mediums. I wasn't thrilled with the narrator's voice, which ended up blurring characters more than the story may have intended/required. But it was a tricky story to narrate too, with the different times and same-named characters and similar relationships between those characters. More than anything, the story is alive and moving and makes you think. Awesome piece of writing. Read and listen, listen and read. It's worth it.
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