Kiese Laymon, “And So On” (McSweeney’s 49)


Kiese Laymon’s “And So On” is one of McSweeney’s 49’s cover stories, modeled after Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”

The story is structured around a wonderful, oblique, direct, cutting dialogue between Chanda Stewart and the narrator, two African American professors in a predominantly white college in Middletown, Massachusetts. They are roommates and have had sex once.

Chanda is a great character, forceful, blunt, loving, determined. She has been dating Doug E. Brovani, a 23-year-old juvenile delinquent who posts videos of himself having sex with white women. The narrator hates her for falling for Doug.

As in “Hills Like White Elephants,” there is a subtext here in the conversation, artfully teased out, that suggests that the narrator has been having an affair with Nella Mae Cade, his research assistant, and has goaded her to have an abortion. This is slipped into the context of racial politics, as Doug’s sister was shot by the police, and this brings racial tensions to the foreground. Brovani starts a riot in protest, and Chanda and the narrator get swept in by it.

The beginning and the end of the story refer to this, and they are strange and cryptic. If the dialogue were the whole story, it would be brilliant. Sandwiched as it is by the enigmatic parts related to the campus revolt, it is a good story. I think it got out of the (talented) author’s hands, perhaps a form a protest against the typical structures of fiction.

Here's a good quote on when people are ready to hear advice: “you can’t tell some folks, no matter how brilliant they are, nothing they aren’t ready to hear” (p. 126).

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