Kiese Laymon expertly juxtaposes his personal experience with his discussion of American histories of violence, discrimination and potential for change in his newest, wholly relevant, aptly named memoir Heavy.
Through anecdotal explorations into his own battles with gender roles, intimacy and violent power structures both private and national, Kiese Laymon voices his own experience as a black man growing up in the sociopolitical climate of the American South.
Most potently, Laymon lays bare his relationship to his mother, which is rife with violence and secrets that lead Laymon on a life path of tension and internal conflict, as he is constantly trying to reconcile the love he feels for her with the objective truth of abuse in the relationship. This dynamic leaves Laymon to struggle with his weight, sexuality and eventual lapse into gambling. Not much more need be said about the book as it is the direct voice of the author, and it stands alone in its truthfulness, merit and authority.
Heavy is an important addition to the discourse on American life, and Laymon couldn’t have written it at a more opportune time. This title will most likely remain one of the most relevant and telling examples of life as a black American.
To show just a piece of the self-awareness and eloquence carried through the memoir, consider this excerpt from a later chapter titled “Seat Belts” in which Laymon is older and more reflective on his past and his place in society:
“I will understand that I am a heavy black boy from Mississippi, which means I am vulnerable. But unlike most heavy black boys from Mississippi, I have a solid check coming in every month for the rest of my life. I have ‘professor’ associated with my name. I have a mother and father with almost powerful friends who could help defend me if I needed it. I will understand that I am vulnerable but I am not powerless. I am not powerless because, though we have no wealth, we have peculiar access to something resembling black power.”
Heavy is one of our Fall/Winter Reads. View the full reading list here.