Long Division

Kiese Laymon

There are just enough time periods and stories within stories woven into this novel that in some ways I felt like I had to suspend my disbelief and not examine the technicalities too closely or the shifts and nested turns wouldn’t actually line up. But I read most of the book in one day, so it was not difficult to get lost in the story. Overall the tone of the book is fairly comic, but ultimately it’s rooted in pretty significant and somber histories.

Long Division opens with Citoyen “City” Coldson going viral on YouTube in 2013 having an on-stage meltdown during a televised quiz contest after getting a racially charged question and refusing to play the game. As a result he’s sent to spend some time with his grandmother in a coastal Mississippi town, where a girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared. Before he leaves, he’s given a book also called Long Division, with no author indicated, in which one of the main characters is also a boy named City Coldson, but the book is set in 1985. The book version of City finds a way to travel into the future and steals a laptop and cellphone from a teenage rapper who is also called Baize Shephard. Finally the time traveling heads further into the past, to 1964, where City will need to intervene against the Klan to defend his family but will also discover the truth of Baise Shephard and her disappearance from 2013.

An impressive debut novel, Laymon has since published in the non-fiction realm with the essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and the memoir Heavy.