Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

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This was possibly my most anticipated read of the year. I knew of Kiese Laymon’s essays, but had never read any of his books, and many people that I trust ad respect have nothing but the highest praise for him. So, I was eager to read his “American Memoir”.

Here is more about Heavy

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

Complexity and vulnerability course through the pages of Heavy. Kiese Laymon never strays from a commitment to tell the truth of his story. As we read on, we understand his truth is painful. We learn how Laymon got to be the thorough, confrontational, relentless man that is writing this memoir. He allows himself to unfold page by page, until you feel as if you might actually know this man. Of course you don’t, but his brutal honesty gives a seeming closeness or understanding.

Laymon is a beautiful writer. He captures feelings and emotions in short and specific sentences. He creates worlds and moments with his words. In Heavy Laymon shows how his mother shapes him as a man, and also as a writer, and more importantly a thinker. In all of these things, her influence is not always positive, but it is obviously formative. She is herself a Black thought leader and academic who forces Laymon to confront the need to be excellent from a young age. We also watch as people come into Laymon’s life and influence his mind and his body. Quiet literally shaping him. We learn of his deep commitment to revision. We see how that compulsion towards excellence is pathological and often times destructive.

I knew very little about Laymon when I started reading, and within a few pages I understood that what I was reading was different than other memoirs. It was at once personal and a social commentary. Laymon would expose personal secrets, and also institutional deficiences. Heavy is a deeply intimate account of one man and his relationship to his own identity, and an examination of America and her relationship to her citizens. Racism, discipline, addiction, education, beauty standards and more are unpacked in Laymon’s memoir.

I was beyond impressed with this book.. I learned a lot and felt the wind knocked out of my sails at times. I have been calling it “Coates-ian” (a reference to author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates), except more intimate, more vulnerable, and less of a reflection on the broader racial questions of our time, more an examination of how one experience is inclusive of the larger picture. There have been some amazing reviews of Heavy, and I highly suggest one by Saeed Jones in The New York Times, Jones beautifully expresses the struggle for excellence and what that means for Laymon and all of us. Before I unequivocally suggest to you to read this book, I want to note there are some very graphic scenes of a child abuse in this book, and while that can be triggering for many, it is an important part of Laymon’s history. I couldn’t imagine this book without those scenes. Now, here it comes, go read this book.

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • PublisherScribner; First Edition edition (October 16, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Heavy Amazon

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