Review: Long Division
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Long Division, by Kiese Laymon (2013)
This one's a thinker. The book is two separate but very intertwined stories. One starts on one side of the book... then halfway through you have to flip the book over to the "back" to read the other.
In 2013, a young boy named City finds a book called Long Division, set in 1985, that has no author. As he begins to read he realizes that there are some scary similarities between the story and his life. The main character in the book is also named City, and many of the people 2013 City knows show up in the book as well, including a girl who, in 2013, has disappeared. Through a friend, both versions of City discover a way to travel back and forth in time to 2013, 1985, and 1964.
It's a plot within a plot within a plot with time travel... and I just didn't really understand it. I really like Laymon's writing style, which uses a sort of fast-talking, smart-mouthed, young-boy, Mississippi language to create character, and adjusts that language in subtle ways depending on what year it is. And I thought the whole conceit was really interesting too. I just never really understood what was happening. Some of that was definitely intentional by the author - there are things that go unexplained on purpose, and I think the reader is supposed to feel frustrated a little, like they're piecing together a puzzle. I just kept thinking Laymon was on the cusp of bringing the disparate narratives together, and it kept not really coming together for me.
I think? Maybe I just don't like it when things feel too vague? And like I have to do a lot of work to speculate about what's going on. I don't mind being confused, and I generally love books that have different elements/narratives/characters that then merge later on. But part of the enjoyment for me is the pay-off. I don't need every single detail explained, but I also don't want that much left to the imagination. I'll do some of the work, but frankly, I want the author to do the bulk of it.
Honestly though, I think there are a lot of people that would really love this book, so I'm not NOT recommending it! It just wasn't for me.