cover image Long Division

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%E2%80%94sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, yet sensitive and observant%E2%80%94so 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%E2%80%94and unquestioned by City%E2%80%94for 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%E2%80%94not when the author decides he wants to%E2%80%94will 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)