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Arithmetic Town / Arithmetic (1996)
Todd McEwen

This novel puts you into the stream of consciousness of Joe Lake, a boy growing up in California in the 1950s. For him, arithmetic represents all that is wrong with his world. It is difficult, ugly, and incomprehensible. He despises it at school, where certain annoying girls are good at it and even his favorite teacher seemingly punishes him with it. And, it is even worse at home where his father -- a professional scientist -- has installed a blackboard in Joe's bedroom:

(quoted from Arithmetic Town / Arithmetic)

But I use [an unspecified expletive] a lot in my room, that's where Dad 'helped' me with my arithmetic, by driving himself crazy with my stupidity. Since he made the blackboard in my room he thought that gave him the right to make me do arithmetic at it, which just about wrecked my whole room, like filling it with deadly gas. The feeling of looking at his unendurably precise writing on my blackboard, twenty-five problems, the sound of the door shutting, call me when you've finished. I thought about dying, or setting fire to the house, my own things being used against me. I could take the sponge and erase all the problems, if only I could come up with some explanation. I don't know who that was. Or, what problems. His neat writing on my blackboard made everything less colorful, the world was drab and oppressive, the light in the ceiling glared out, really mean, and I started hating the cowboys on the walls and curtains, watercolor cowboys who roped nothing. Even if I listened as closely as I could Dad's words didn't make any sense, there were the whys, I wanted to ask at least one why between each of his words. But why gets you nowhere. I made a stab at the threes and fives, I could do those once in a while, but then he was coming back in, with these questions, Don't you understand this, WHY don't you understand this, what seems to be the problem here, looks like we're going to have to shoot you down on this one. Then his OKAY, meaning I'm going to explain to you everything from the beginning,

Then, Joe's parents buy him a workbook called "Arithmetic Town", featuring a picture perfect image of happy parents and school children on the cover, which he is required to work through.

An excerpt from this work was first published under the title "Arithmetic Town" in the literary journal Granta in 1996 (see here) where it essentially takes the form of a short story. The full novel, Arithmetic, was then published in 1998. I am grateful to Gregory Cherlin for letting me know about its existence.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Arithmetic Town / Arithmetic
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Rithmatic by B.J. Novak
  2. Dear Dumb Diary Year Two #1: School. Hasn't This Gone on Long Enough? by Jim Benton
  3. The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
  4. A Deprogrammer's Tale by Colin Adams
  5. The Sinister Researches of C.P. Ransom by Homer C. Nearing Jr.
  6. Rumpled Stiltskin by Colin Adams
  7. Monster by Alex Kasman
  8. Mathematically Bent by Colin Adams
  9. Tracking the Random Variable by Marcos Donnelly
  10. The Secret Number by Igor Teper
Ratings for Arithmetic Town / Arithmetic:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

MotifMath as Cold/Dry/Useless, Math Education,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumNovels, Short Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)