Long Division is a Dazzling Debut by Kiese Laymon
This debut novel from an exciting young black Southern writer is a tragicomic exploration of race, adolescence, Southern history, authorship, and technology, told through the experiences of a 14-year-old Mississippi boy.
In 2013, Citoyen “City” Coldson is competing in the nationally televised “Can You Use This Word in a Sentence” contest finals, where he is one of only two black male contestants, along with his arch-nemesis LaVander Peeler. After being assigned the word “niggardly,” City has an onstage meltdown and storms off. Video of his outburst almost instantly goes viral.
City is hustled out of town to go stay with his beloved grandmother in Melahatchie, Mississippi, where a girl named Baize Shepard has recently disappeared. While there, City is distracted by a strange novel written by an unknown author, titled “Long Division,” that he had been given right before the contest. He’s unsettled to discover that the narrator — a boy living in Melahatchie in 1985 — is also named City Coldson. This second City, along with his friend Shalaya Crump, discovers a hole through time that leads him to a meeting with Baize Shephard. Together, City, Shalaya, and Baize must face down the horrors of Mississippi’s violent past and are ultimately confronted with an unimaginable choice.
While dipping in and out of the mysterious “Long Division,” City is alternatively praised, ridiculed, and abused by the white and black residents of Melahatchie, who all have their own views about City’s outburst and his new celebrity. After City tells his grandmother about a violent confrontation with a white man, he later finds the man chained up in the dank work shed behind his grandmother’s house. City’s two stories eventually converge in this work shed, where he finally finds the truth about Baize Shepard’s disappearance.
Kiese Laymon was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1998 and earned an MFA from Indiana University in 2003. Laymon is a contributing editor at Gawker.com and has written for numerous publications, including Esquire and ESPN.com. He is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Vassar College. His collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, will be published by Agate Bolden in August 2013.