A mixture of fantasy and science fiction here, and all what I’d consider great stories, even if with some caveats. Some of the stories are uplifting, even triumphant, but there is also some melancholy mixed in to balance things. The world of the Ayinde story, and even its theme, seem ideally suited to a longer work, but still make a fine short story to lead things off:

“The Techwork Horse” by M. H. Ayinde — The life of a lower caste girl who stubbornly refuses to give up on her hope and goal of riding an ancient steed that will only respond (match) to one person, but always one of nobility. Even beyond the message of resilience or dedication, the best aspects of this story are those not-fully-defined details that intrigue, blurring the lines between magic and mechanical technology, fantasy and science fiction settings.

“Baby Brother” by Kalynn Bayron — An earnest story on the fragility of life and how pain can haunt a family, written from the point of view of a child’s relationship with his younger brother. The speculative aspect and closing line seem unnecessary and almost to distract from story’s strengths, though. Nonetheless a bittersweet, touching tale.

“Delete Your First Memory for Free” by Kel Coleman — A man who experiences social discomfort while interacting among strangers, coworkers, and even friends likewise struggles with anxiety over memories of awkward encounters or choices. When a night drinking with friends turns to a decision for them all to go try a new memory erasure service, he nervously goes along. I kept expecting for something to go real bad, for some sinister change to the protagonist about which he’d be left unaware. Instead, to its credit, the story goes in a more positive direction. I’m left unsure how the protagonist can relate the history of deleting a memory to the reader, from his point of view, however.

“All in a Day’s Work” by Jade Stewart — A rollicking ride through the day of a free-lance demon hunter named Walker. Light-hearted and simply fun, there are some pieces of dialogue that seem a little stilted, but lots of writing to bring chuckles too. I could see Walker and their grandmother being part of a longer work too, particularly with depth to balance the action.

The issue also contains poetry…

  • RAINBOWS & NECKLACES // Martins Deep
  • ERSTWHILE RAMELON // K. Ceres Wright 

… and interview with cover artist Nilah Magruder. A Spotify playlist is also available to accompany the issue’s contents.

Long Division, by Kiese Laymon

Long Division, by Kiese Laymon
Publisher: Agate Bolden
ISBN: 1932841725
276 pages, paperback
Published June 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

True or False: If you haven’t read or written or listened to something at least three times, you have never really read, written, or listened.

So reads one of the ‘questions’ in a test given to Citoyen (City), the protagonist of “Long Division”, a test that appears both near the beginning and the end of the story. Or perhaps one should say, stories. With the qualifications of ‘for me [dot dot dot] for this novel’ the above statement is most certainly true. On the surface Laymon’s debut novel is filled with straight-forward social commentary on race, age, and family. These weighty topics are dealt with moments that are humorous and a style that shows joy at playing with language. But I also get the sense that there is more behind that surface, a trove of thought-provoking bits that could easily fuel dissection in some academic setting. This is a novel that one finishes, and decides to return to again one day.

You can read the summary of what this novel is about, so I won’t go into its complexities here, but it is indeed a book with another book called “Long Division” within it. And that secondary “Long Division” even has yet another “Long Division” within that. We the reader don’t delve into that level, though one gets the impression that it may circle back into the world of the primary “Long Division” one holds in his or her hands. Thankfully, this complexity does not detract from the novel, it is actually an integral part that drives the whole. The fantastic aspects of the novel (time travel across historical eras) actually take place in the secondary “Long Division”, while the primary work stays rooted in a realistic manner until the end when a bit of magic possibilities enter in, at least how I interpreted things on a first read. I felt some uncertainty in both events of the plot and what ideas to take from the novel upon concluding it. On the one hand this fuels thinking, reconsidering, and rereading. On the other hand, some readers may not like doing this at all.

Laymon desired (from what I can tell) to write something unique that spoke to a particular audience, but still capture certain essences of ‘classic’ Am literature that we all grew up with in school. He has surely achieved this kind of balance both in story and characters. On the back cover of the book, Tim Strode is quoted “…City…feels totally singular and totally representative.” This statement is dead-on, both in characters and the overall style of the work. Layman’s most impressive achievement is that of voice. The City of “Long Division” prime is both similar, and quite distinct from the time-traveling counterpart of “Long Division” secondary. In a book that focuses commentary on stereotypes, clichés, acting a part, etc, it becomes essential that the author stays well-clear of falling into the same trap. Laymon manages to keep each character utterly believable and sincere: simply human, whether young or old, male or female, black or white. Primarily focused on issues of race, it was profound to see Laymon also masterfully handle those other considerations such as gender.

The varied styles and personalities of each character really does make this novel go beyond being a clever social commentary or homage to classic literature; it makes it art worth consuming. That fact, along with the book’s easy flow, strong plot, and tendency to make one chuckle make this something well-worth your reading.

Five Stars out of Five