Review: Long Division, Kiese Laymon

Now this would have been a good read for A More Diverse Universe, if I had but read it in time. I’m going to cunningly add a link to this post to the More Diverse Universe links page, and by the time Aarti notices it will be too late to do anything about my illicit post-linking. Mwahahahaha, I am the most cunning blogger in all the land.

Long Division is about a boy named City (short for Citoyen) in 2013 who checks out a book called Long Division about a boy named City in 1985 who time-travels forward to 2013 to meet a girl called Baize, who in City (our City)’s present has disappeared and is presumed murdered. The City in our book is staying with his grandmother, who may or may not be hiding Baize Shepherd’s murderer in her toolshed. The City in his book has promised assistance to a girl he’s half in love with, Shalaya Crump, who has discovered a means of time traveling — forward to 2013, or backward to 1965, when City’s grandfather was murdered.

Your concern — I can detect it from here — is that Long Division might seem at first glance like the sort of book that would quickly disappear up its own bottom. But Kiese Laymon writes with such a light hand — funny in places, but mainly, sincere in the way that teenage boys like City are sincere, i.e., absolutely achingly but also afraid that they are about to be laughed at, and they are still in the process of deciding whether they care enough to change how sincere they’re going to be — that the convolutions of the plot feel strangely natural. Meanwhile, Laymon depicts so many different ways of resisting the insidious effects of centuries of racism; it’s a beautifully textured look at what racism has looked like at different points in our country’s history, and how people have dealt with it.

Also cause: Metafiction! I am all about it. What about y’all? I know that you all love Jasper Fforde, and I wish I could be there with you. Apart from that, what’s some metafiction that you adore?

  • rivercityreading

    I grabbed this from the library earlier this year when it was in the running for the Tournament of Books, but was bogged down reading some of the others and had to return it. I really want to read it at some point, it sounds like such a unique book.

    • Gin Jenny

      Was it in the running for Tournament of Books? See! This is just what I like about the Tournament of Books! Lots of diversity and strange books get in there!

  • Christopher Bowers

    Have you picked up The Bone Clocks yet? I’m only about a third of the way through, but Mitchell’s doing a similar convoluted-time-shifting-plot-with-a-light-hand thing that I’m getting a kick out of.

    • Gin Jenny

      I haven’t because I have an intense prejudice against David Mitchell. I am not sure where it came from. Keep me posted on The Bone Clocks and maybe I will give it a try.

  • Oh, I like the sound of this! So disappointed you don’t like Fforde. Just kidding. I love him but he does get to be a bit too much from time to time. I do enjoy metafiction but I am drawing a blank on some favorites at the moment. I’m going to blame Friday morning and having the sniffles.

    • Gin Jenny

      Friday morning and having the sniffles are exceptionally good reasons not to remember favorite metafiction books. I hope your sniffles are cured by now!

  • I love the “Metafiction” episode of Supernatural, of course, which is full of metafiction in general. I love the metafiction in Northanger Abbey and Tom Jones. Harlan Ellison’s The Deathbird Stories are stunningly metafictional. The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Princess Bride are among my favorites. Doesn’t Fire and Hemlock have metafictional elements?

    • Gin Jenny

      Fire and Hemlock DOES have metafictional elements, and I cherish it infinitely. I have heard of most of the things you say, but I have read only a few. I will definitely try The Deathbird Stories; that is an excellent title.

  • Now you’ve started me thinking about my favorites and I can’t quit. I’m remembering the time I found a movie version of Tristram Shandy and I was downstairs watching it and laughing at the way it spliced scenes of him trying to be born all the way through the rest of the story, and Eleanor (who had been put to bed) stomped down and accused us of watching horror movies–which we wouldn’t allow her to watch in our house–and LAUGHING! Because, you see, the birth scenes had the mother screaming and there was always some narration about how long it took to describe the birth and how much time that was taking away from getting to the rest of his life. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t even explain what was going on for a while.

    • Gin Jenny

      I think I saw that! A really long time ago! With um Steve Coogan?

      • Yes! That’s the one. It isn’t bad, if you’ve seen the book.
        Although you know I also adore reading the end, I did not like the subtitle of the movie, because it takes a line from the end of the book, which is supposed to be the punch line of a very long shaggy dog story, and it’s just no fun giving it away at the very beginning.

  • I like metafiction, but I’m having a heck of a time coming up with examples. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino is one. Maybe A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket would count. And Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson. Oh, and parts of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

    But not Jasper Fforde. I didn’t like Eyre Affair at all and can’t bring myself to try anything else.

    • Gin Jenny

      I’ll try the Kate Atkinson for sure! But yeah, I’m out on Jasper Fforde. My dislike of The Eyre Affair was so extreme it put me off him for life.

  • Having given up on Infinite Jest – isn’t it supposed to be metafiction to the max?, I’m still not sure I ‘get’ metafiction. I have read the Calvino mentioned in the comment by Teresa. It was odd, but I liked it OK. Infinite Jest is wearily repetitive and boring and GETONWITHITALREADY and I didn’t even make it 1/4 in. I feel like I’m disappointing people I admire who loved IJ. Perhaps because I attempted the audio? I might be missing the footnotes. Sigh.
    I’ve not yet read Jasper Fforde. I might have to read Northanger Abbey one of these days.

    • Gin Jenny

      Do read Northanger Abbey! I absolve you of Infinite Jest. I’ve had the exact same experience as you, and I think it’s okay to just accept that it’s not for us.

  • Okay, I’ll get this one onto my TBR even though I got lost during your summary of the plot. 😉
    I just finished The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll and it was amazing metafiction.

    • Gin Jenny

      Mmmmmmmmm, OKAY maybe it is time for me to give Jonathan Carroll another shot. I am nervous about it but I will try.

  • Ela

    I started my Jasper Fforde reading with the second of his Thursday Next books, ‘Lost In A Good Book’, which I think is better than ‘The Eyre Affair’, but I can quite see why you might find his books contrived. I like his stuff a lot, though. ‘If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller…’ is probably also my only metafictional suggestion, though.