Contemporary Mississippi Authors #1: Kiese Laymon

For 2015, a new series of posts will focus on writers currently living in or from Mississippi. As many of you know, Oxford is home to a numberlong division of authors, and the state’s literary scene is as rich as ever. Thrillers, mysterys, poetry, literary fiction, cookbooks, short stories, original scholarship – this year, we’ll read widely yet locally, voraciously and with open minds.

The first book of the series is Kiese Laymon’s Long Division (2013):

Laymon grew up in Jackson during the 80’s. As a kid, his mother required him to read southern classics and write short essays on them before he could go out and play. Today, he considers himself a southern writer, and Long Division is set in Mississippi.

An energetic and dazzling quasi-historical novel, Long Division refrains from delving into a historical moment and recreating it. Instead, Laymon defines historical fiction in his own terms: “Only those who can read, write and love can move back or forward through time”. By equating reading and writing with time travel, he enables his characters to move back and forth through time – figuratively and literally. The primary narrative is set in 2013 and moves between 1985 and ’64.

In the opening scenes, City, the main character of 2013, finds a novel titled “Long Division”. As he reads, he discovers a character also named City, his own age, and who appears to be himself, but in 1985. He’s baffled: who wrote this novel? how does it effect his life? Figuring out who wrote the 1985 “Long Division” is the key to this novel.

Laymon portrays City and Mississippians as chained to their past by their literature, a Mississippi doomed to continually react to tragedies and racial tensions. The dazzling hopefulness of City falls apart as he solves the mystery of the novel. – All in all, Long Division is a highly recommended read and a very promising debut work.

If you’ve read Long Division, post your thoughts below, or just suggest anything: writers, books, etc..

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