Long Division, by Kiese Laymon

Long DivisionI am a big fan of weird books. Books where people used to be spaceships? Sure. Books where people can kill other people with words? Oh yeah. But this book is the kind of weird that I can’t condense into one nice phrase. “Books about people who read books sort of about themselves but sort of not and also kind of time travel” just doesn’t quite have the same ring.

But that’s what this is, and if you’re like me even that odd sentence construction has you intrigued. I mean, time travel!

Now, this is one of those books that’s sort of more about the structure and the storytelling than the plot, or at least, if you think about the plot too hard your head is going to explode. But let me see if I can sum up:

Basically, there’s a kid called City Coldson who has a spectacular moment at the state “can you use this word in a sentence” competition (which is a competition I totally want to see) that leads to his mother shipping him off to his grandmother’s house in the middle of nowhere, where he reads a book about a kid called City Coldson who is visiting that same nowhere town and who gets involved with a girl who has found a sort of time machine hole and who is trying to fix the future but also a little bit the past? Oh, and the second City is reading the same book, except in his world it’s a book about the first City.

Does that make sense? Probably not. It’s not even quite making sense to me right now. But since that’s how I felt the entire time I was reading Long Division, that seems somehow appropriate. It’s a very abstract-feeling book, with all sorts of stuff happening all over the place that connects in surprising ways and then doesn’t connect when you think it should, but, who knows, maybe it does connect and you’re just not looking at it the right way.

One strong through-line in the novel is racism, from overt to casual to well-intentioned and everything in between. I don’t want to spoil the spectacular moment mentioned above, but let’s just say it involves the word “niggardly” and some serious deck-stacking in our present-day culture, and also as book City (who is from the 80s) travels through time we get to see a lot of interesting thoughts and interactions between people with different societal norms.

This is the kind of book that I would love to re-read because I know it’s going to take two or three times through it to even contemplate comprehension, but also the kind of book that’s just so weird that I’m really only going to read it once. And I know if I tried to bring it to a book club I’d end up the only one at the meeting. Instead, I will hope that some of you guys read it and then come back here and talk to me about all the things!

Recommendation: For people who hate author hand-holding and people who like being completely baffled all the time.

Rating: 7/10

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