Long Division

Kiese Laymon. Agate/Bolden, $15 trade paper (274p) ISBN 978-1-932841-72-5
Two not-quite-parallel threads run through Laymon's meandering debut novel: the first, the story of young Mississippi high-schooler Citoyen, a.k.a. "City"; the second, chapters from a book he finds about a young Mississippi high-schooler of the same name, who, it seems, is him in a different time period. City is something of a typical inner-city teenage protagonist—sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, yet sensitive and observant—so his uncharacteristic outburst and the ensuing repercussions that give the novel its initial momentum seem implausible. The novel takes a fantastical turn, and occasionally Laymon's workings stand out a little too clearly. This selective adherence to the "rules" of writing happens on a larger scale: the novel within a novel goes unexplained—and unquestioned by City—for so long it's as though the author is ignoring his own subject matter to keep pages turning. Those trusting Laymon to provide answers will find a curious, enjoyable novel. However, readers who believe authors must address a text's pressing concerns as they make demands upon the reader—not when the author decides he wants to—will find this novel more trying. Though its real-world sections take relish in skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism, the book's interest in fantasy elements serves as an easier, less interesting, way out. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/03/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
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