Date Completed: (7/6/2015)
“I hated sentences that told me that my emotions were like something that wasn’t emotional, but I loved how those red words looked like they were coming right out of the sun, red hot.” This is something City says about a poster of a poem. City is a young boy, in high school I believe, perhaps 15 or 16, living in 2013. We travel with him to a sentence contest with his friend whom he simultaneously hates and loves, LaVander Peeler. I forget quite where, but somewhere along the way he finds a book called Long Division. From here on out the story gets quite confusing, but in a good and fascinating way.
Long Division has no author. City begins reading on the way to the competition, and continues reading as he is sent to his grandmother’s house for atonement, threatened by white men, found a white man tied up by his grandmother in his grandmother’s shed, is baptized, and eventually travels home. The story’s main character turns out to be called City as well, and the story shares remarkable connections to his life, except that the character is living in 1985. In the book, he time travels with his friend Shalaya to 2013 where they meet a girl named Baize Sheppard, a girl who has also disappeared in real life. Then he travels back in time with Shalaya to 1964, where a Jewish boy tells them he can help them save their grandfathers from being shot. They attempt it, but unfortunately they can’t save them. Evan, the Jewish boy, and Shalaya fall in love. The plot thickens when *SPOILER ALERT* Baize turns out to be City and Shalaya’s daughter. City spends time with Baize, but slowly she disappears because City and Shalaya no longer get married due to Evan and Shalaya being in love.
Now, this is where it gets interesting because there are many suggestive layers to this book that I am still processing. There was a girl in 2013 named Baize Sheppard who did disappear. Was it perhaps that City was stuck in 2013 with no memory of having been raised in 1985 because they changed the past which changed the future and Baize disappeared because she really never existed? Was the book that had no author actually written by him as an autobiographical account? Why were there two copies, and why was one of them in Grandma’s shed with the white man? These are things that I am not entirely sure about, but perhaps I am missing the key to unraveling this mystery.
The book gets even more interesting when you recall the story of Don Quixote, a 17th century Spanish novel in which the main character finds a book about himself and wonders if he belongs to someone else’s story, kind of Inception-esque.
Yet the novel speaks to the struggle of coming of age, especially as a young black man in a “post-racial” society. It parallels with the struggles of being a black man in the south during the reign of the KKK. Playing with history in this way is important because we need to remember our past, but we need to figure out what is important about our present and our future as well. What will bring us the most peace, hope, and joy.
At one point, the main character, City (short for Citoyen) questions why there aren’t as many books that feel like they were written for him, meaning for young black people. This part seems rather autobiographical, as I’ve heard something similar come out of my friend’s mouth. Laymon is very effective in writing in a way that reaches out both to southern and to black people. Laymon plays with punctuation and grammar in the story, as well as different slang uses through the years. His style is very readable and in absolutely no way does it detract from the story, but rather I think it brings something personal and emotional to the story, enhancing the story itself through the writing style.This book definitely made me think, all the while being a very enjoyable read.
This was a fantastic read, would highly recommend. The author, Kiese Laymon, is a black southern writer from Jackson, Mississippi, and all of that comes through in his writing (which is kind of the idea). I loved the way that this story had a little bit of everything in it and was very imaginative. This was his debut novel, although he also has a book of essays published called How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others. He has too new books coming soon.