Another in the series. Yesterday’s post made reference to Kiese Laymon’s Long Division. I’ve been savoring it for some days now as I read a bit each day. I don’t want the story of City (né Citoyen) to end as he travels from 1964, 1985, or 2013.
Our fourteen-year-old protagonist precipitates a firestorm when he launches a tirade during a televised version of “Can You Use That Word in a Sentence.” He and his antagonist appear as the two African Americans in a multi-racial contest, a dumbed-down spelling bee. City gets the word “niggardly.” Pandemonium ensues.
The opening sets an outrageous tone as his tormentor describes City as the “White Homeless Fat Homosexual,” to which City replies he is not white, not homeless, and not homosexual.
Lines like that appear throughout. Among my favorite, City says a minister’s voice “sounded like burning Bubble Wrap was all up in his throat.”
There’s a huge element of magical realism as City tunnels from one decade to the next, clutching one of several copies of the book Long Division, which has no author and features a boy named City.
With humor and insight and outrage, Kiese serves up a memorable cast of supporting characters. City thinks his grandmother, Mama Lara, a fixture in Melahatchie, Mississippi, “a little on the shady side.” His girlfriend Shalaya Crump smells like she “must have been swimming in a sea of cube steak gravy.” Then there’s the mysterious Baize Shephard who may or may not have disappeared.
I wish the One Book program had chosen Long Division instead of the derivative Ready Player One. Kiese’s characters, multiple plots, and writing are so far superior.